Her handwriting trailed faint smoke
across the page; she left hidden messages
in the pattern of cigarette butts in ashtrays
balanced on TVs and sinks.
A house: the green of old limes, windows
with cottony cataract curtains, surrounded
by a desert of grass thatch bleached
by the cheery wand of the sun (that stuck-up bitch).
The dog reigned over a kingdom of fleas, drunk
on gin to stop him scratching his bald spot.
Get the dog sober, I pleaded. She laughed,
When monkeys fly out my butt!
She had arms like old soap, eyes covered
in brick, head shorn to corn stubble.
Memories crawled over her: ants
she tried to brush away with hands like dead crows.
Her father wore tinfoil hats to evade
government spies as he counted his money.
Radio waves buzzed the plains of Kansas
like angry bees, sniffing at our dark places.
Her father’s words rattled like corn falling
in an empty metal silo. Her brother filled her mouth
with clods of earth. Locked in the cellar,
she shivered, squeezed her thighs on an axe handle.
Years later she painted a face on her husband's
tiny prick, a one-eyed squint and a leer
above wrinkled jowls. He got lost in a blonde
haystack, never to find his way home.
My childhood was as gray and as flat as the sky
before dawn. I hid under blankets,
afraid of the tumbleweed bush that stared
out the eye of the cyclone, afraid of slippers
coming down the hall, afraid of lipstick
on my forehead. What twelve-year-old boy
is afraid of the forest? Let me hear you roar.
Oh my, let me hear you roar.
The neighbors came to visit in the hospital.
We spun on our toes for her, slipped rubies
into her mouth and under the elephant skin
of her arms, did card tricks with toilet paper.
She cried, No one loves me but the dog.
If someone had loved me at the orphanage,
I would have had stars in my hair and candy for pillows.
I would have bathed in champagne.
She cried, I never got the hang of housework:
the swirl of brooms made me dizzy,
I feared I’d drown in a bucket of mopwater,
I crawled under the bed with my feet sticking out.
Her flesh turned to caramel, her eyes to boiled eggs,
her bones to dried sticks of willow.
She’d been a Sunday School teacher once,
but there at the end her curses curdled our eyes.
Her last words crackled and split like burnt
bronze-black skin of an overcooked turkey.
Nothing is completely watertight: when the rain hits
the coffin she’ll turn to soap and melt,
scrub the earth clean of pain and old blood
on mountains no higher than washboard ripples.