The Great Die-Up
My hooves break off in snow,
our flat tract slain
clumped inside sheaths of icy
whips, the moon
chimes then shudders. How to
move without the goad?
The first incision a white whistle,
track of nails, stars
warble in their brassy nests.
The hills shrunk up
cold as mirrors and my body
a plank, a black pool
both swollen and compressed.
Stung numb and blood
shot, sunk below the echoes.
Once, I was so patient.
Once, you ought to have seen me growing up in that teeny house
with the five babies and Mom just died and Dad thought Jesus
came back to Earth in the year 70 AD.
Once, I was a mother at the age of nine.
This is the period I will refer to as my “actual insanity.” My
“internment.” My “lonelymaking.”
Also known as my horrible secret, continent-wide.
You know that expression—all good things must be annihilated.
Well, lesions split up behind my ears like slugs inking their way
toward my eyes.
I soon became blind. Blind and simultaneously
able to understand everything perfectly. I was the most
intelligent person in Illinois, and so
it was with ease that I discovered that I lived inside of a prison
inside of a prison.
With the dawn of my intelligence, my husband (he’s a lawyer, he examines land) called on an alienist. The alienist asked me to empty my pockets. I dramatically turned my pockets completely inside out. What could I have? What have I ever had?
I had a little teeny tiny silver-plated bell in my breast pocket.
which was unpeeling.
as: the land my husband examines—all that red
as: kneading. And needing.
I clutched the little bell until I felt its clapper slide against my
palm—this I intuited as a request.
I clutched the little bell until it pulverized.
And the alienist—he—he—forcibly unclenched my fist, dumped the powder into his drawstring pouch, and then—he—licked between my fingers all the rest of that fine baby-blue dust.
He insisted on looking me dead in the eyes while he was licking.
(He did not know that I identified as blind.)
But! I had another bell. An invisible bell that I saw in my
mind—and I could listen to it
just by blinking. When I slept, a clatter of angel hair wound itself
When I slept, no one in the world would lick my fingers.
Pretend for a minute that you are me.
Pretend the papers have declared your husband to be a horse’s
Pretend your brother wrote The Bible: Part II.
Pretend your brother once chased you with an ax, and then
murdered the president.
And by “the president” I mean the President.
For how many seconds could you remain contrite and
And then please recall how I flitted around like a hummingbird
For roughly all my life.
This is why I was able to give my body up to that asylum. My
body but not my mind.
You know the old saying—
Mind over your pasty waterlogged limbs.
Yes, they tried to drown it out of me.
Some new experimental “treatment”—
My feet were permanently pruned,
my ankles forever blue,
my body altogether hairless and stooping.
They say the lack of empathy is a dead ringer for insanity. I have a
Too much empathy will singe a small hole, just barely noticeable,
into your soul
and each day you live your magnanimous life, the hole grows
and it grows
until eventually it becomes a universe
and every piece of you sinks toward its bottom, which is a giant
inexorably swallowing all of you. Your consciousness is last but it,
too, slips through
and the only thing left is the one tear you saved, your final lament
for the state of the world, and when that dribbles out—truly, truly
you are left with nothing.
It will also ruin a marriage.
My most empathetic gesture was the day I walked those dirt
to your holding cell, my bouquet smiling up into your tired pink
nasturtium, gladiola, sunflowers, the dandelion heads
snapped off and floated up, a symbol of hope, some promise of
I’ve never been as tender as the day I asked you to end your