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Andrew Koch


Martha never needed christening
by preachers' holy waters
in creeks or fonts.

At communion the preachers spoke blessings
that sounded like, "Take a deet." So she baptized
herself each evening, smeared in bug spray.

She was born in a little town under the shadow
of the state pen, the hill crowned in barbed-wire,
their watchtower beams probing the night.

"Martha," her grandmother said,
"men up there are made of animals."
Martha had seen their metal claws comb the highways.

The staff at the county museum
held no record of these things,
nor of the mystical properties of quilts,

or the migratory patterns of leviathans,
though Martha heard them from her window,
moaning and frothing down the Roanoke every night.

Year of the Easter Egg

Martha knows she is old enough
for manners, old enough
to slice her lettuce
with steak knives,
old enough to have sins
that cost something.

She dreams the dream
where her face tears off,
pieces of it in her hands.
A smithereen is used
to measure someone
after they've turned into light.

She tracks the raging
supernova of grade school
in pencil portraits, the double helix
of penmanship books.
She sharpens sentences, the whole alphabet
a concealed weapon.

She understands this like
the ballistic ballets of little boys,
like Superman physics.
She knows the etymology
of Oviraptor.
She knows how to kill real gods.

Her neighbors dash cascarones
against each other, confetti falling
from their shoulders.
She does impressions of relatives
as bombs. The logical extension of the body
is a burning house.

She's given a springtime
swollen and purple.
She pries open the cracked
lip of an empty, pink egg.
This, she is told,
is evidence of God.

Alphabet Game

Buckled-up, Martha watches
picture-book interstates blur.
From backseats, America still looks like
a choose-your-own-adventure continent
with a choice of witches,
virgins or second wives.
The radio reports
hundreds of aborted raptures
and all the jokes
come in knock-knock,
blonde or Helen Keller.
Grown-ups forget
geographic anomalies
like billboards or steeples,
but their mouths fill
with hymns to eulogize humans,
incantations for the new world.
Churches fight wars
with spleens, bile,
although tongues
inflict the greatest casualties.
Protestants conduct ultrasounds
with homemade jams,
say prayers that void the moonlight,
translate whispers
into sacrament.
Dead islands
surf in every day, wash up
along the broadcast coast.
Every season sheds its skin,
molts into warm winter.
All the exits
are just other places
with the same climate,
a land of yonder
under a sky crowded with eagles.

Year of the Flood

A funeral
like a search party–
grandmother's gone,

but her cousins
still expect her to splinter
from the pine boards

at the church-hall,
a tobacco queen
who gave hugs like they were Shakespeare.

They clutch the last green tomatoes
from her garden, but all that's left of her
are her own proverbs on their lips.

The last dream Martha had
was a nightmare
of the Roanoke

rising up
through the floorboards
of the house,

spilling out
and drowning everyone
down the mountains.

The South is all extinct ocean,
grandmother once told her,
like a bestiary of the dead.

For all the sunshine,
nights in Carolina pour
into every empty crack like water

swelling inside a host.
Some nights there's only
a low-flung moon,

smoke detectors,
and shutters

that knock
in the windows
like bones.


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Blood in the wind,
the spangled banner buckles–

the one constellation
of shredded stars

and stripes that goes on
fluttering in each sky

like an aria
with its vowels ripped out.

Its profane little roar
could take a lesson

from grandmother's
homespun quilts,

rough and warm,
each a ragged opera

for an old highway,
a jigsaw flag

flown in bedrooms
and barns.

Grandmother's fingers
and thumbs, the sovereign seals

of the republic of her house,
long gone now,

still curl short slumbers
around Martha, the dark pockets

of air she stitched together
to hem her in. The frayed edges

sing a broken refrain
that all songs, at last,

grow hollow. The curse
of the body is an old fabric.

Moths eat your sins.
Sparrows eat the moths.

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