* * *
He interrupts us with his staccato tap tapping,
swivels his skunk crown to mock our quiet conversation.
By now we assume all the rules are set—
no children, small house, all the foolish money stuff.
All out on the table save those small deceptions,
glue that holds a marriage together.
He swaps branches in a flourish, throat contracting
like a mottled heart. We have reached a new age now,
learning from several friends in quick succession
about the subtle system of signs shared
between patients in the chemo wards.
From one, about the uncomfortable chairs.
From another, the liquid ghosts that float and drip
above your head, the watery bleed, after, of natural light.
I am a coward, I tell her, and would never,
would rather suffer in the rotten trunk of my body.
And the selfishness there spooks us both
to a new silence. Leaves us just relentless drum taps
of the woodpecker as he tilts his needle beak
to work beetles and mites from the sour bark.
* * *
The ordinance says five egg laying hens
wwwwper single family home.
But from another ordinance, wired deep
wwwwin the precise apparatus of the body—
for every mouth there is another mouth,
wwwwa tooth. For every throat
there is a stomach contracting.
wwwwInside the house
he pulls skin over the sink and drops
wwwwearly potatoes to a boiling pot.
He watches the fox out the window
wwwwsnatch eggs and clumsy chicks
and tip them back, one on another,
wwwwlike toothsome moons.
When he sets the red carcass to the coals
wwwwit breaks loose a bright blue.
The pearl tuft of stomach swelling
wwwwlike a streetlamp below
a trellis of ash and oak. The reek
wwwwof fur staining the night air.
Sacrifice, a word that holds meaning
wwwwfor the act and for the actor.
Later, he washes blood from his hands
wwwwin a dark basin.
His thumbs and the tips of his fingers
wwwwglow in the sink’s black ocean.
At first like stars and then like skulls—
wwwwthe chicken’s nasal bend,
the killer’s oval bowl. And then his own
wwwwhot brainpan, humming.
* * *
Russell Brakefield is the author of Field Recordings (Wayne State University Press, 2018). He received his MFA from the University of Michigan and teaches writing at the University of Denver.
featured photo by Geoffrey Stacks