An ulcer broken from the earth’s core—
like a child weeping sap and ember,
the forest yawns wide, unhinged
at the jaw to resist the taxidermist’s
fleshing knife. She drags gravel across her hips,
scrubbing the cliff of her thighs,
writhes against bluff and trunk to tear
ribbon from flesh. Blood blossoms like coffee
grounds, dark in the rolling slough.
She is reborn a new stag, her crown a velvet mess
of briars and sinew, anointed in terror.
It is a Sticky Grief That Covers the Mother’s Heart,
wrapped up in cheesecloth and elm sap,
placed in a brown bag from the market
where bruised peaches went for fifty cents.
It hangs, a beating sack,
in the closet behind the stairs. She
cannot forget the swell in her belly
or the bent bodies hovering, sterile in their inability to touch the loss.
Each night she untethers the slow thump
to place peach pits like coals hot
from her tongue beside the torn muscle,
but she knows some seeds never take.
A year of planting in dark and the stairs
will weaken where the closet has fermented,
the un-mother’s heart ripened to maggots.
Blue Damson Plums
Tart in the jar. Rows and rows of smudged
glass lined the cellar. The must and damp,
the smell of old water deep in cement.
Daddy Long Legs crouched in corners
to wonder at the kaleidoscope walls.
Stewed tomatoes, apple butter, quick pickles,
bright fingers of peaches floating in syrup,
each with a canning date in black marker.
But the plums—fat bodies rolling, swollen
with sugar. We had stolen them last summer,
but that’s not the word we used. The tree
was leaning out of the back fence of some farmer’s
lower acres, the branches overgrown, pregnant
with fruit. We stopped, my grandmother and I
and the perch from our fishing trip ripening
in the sun of the truck bed. She called it being
good neighbors, there were already downed plums
feeding the flies; we were ingenious flies
taking our piece before the fall. I taste the cold
settling in to her rotting body like floating in a sweater
that’s lost its shape, tucked in a kind of cellar
that cannot keep her from our cousins for long.
And I want to find the stone, too slick in its newness
for death like the preacher and his black mirror shoes,
so out of place in field mud. I want to mark her date
in fat black ink. There is a satisfying pop
as I pry the lid from the mouth. Their soggy heads stain
my hands—a gloaming—and in the taut sting
that stabs the jaw I find her whole once more.