My Father is a Wolf

When wolves first meet up
they have a ritual
of smelling one other’s breath

One wolf will put his nose
to the mouth of another, asking
What have you been hunting?

The second wolf exhales
thick breath, hot with blood and sulfur
to explain, You can still smell the kill

But nothing tells this story quite as well
as a human.  My father took me
hunting every autumn

Crouched down in the forest
beside him, I felt the gravity of this genre,
the deepness of its roots

extending so far beyond men.
It was the sensation of soil
working its way

into the grooves of my skin,
the crunch of detritus underfoot.
It becomes a type of language, like a prayer

In college, I would later learn some theories
which suggest that the human kiss began
as a mouth-to-mouth greeting

like that of the wolf.
I knew this immediately to be true;
my father is a wolf.

Always quick and deliberate; gutting his animal
in perfect technique.  He taught me how
to split open the ribcage and reach inside—

you have to grab the heart and sever the moorings.
But still, there is a right way
and a wrong way
to kill an animal.

Image

Salt

Libraries, for example, are good places
to escape the viciousness of people
when they try to get

inside of you.

Between the shelves
there is plenty of space
to lick your wounds.

This is something I do often.

My first twenty years weren’t easy
I was always busy
with the important occupation

of dismantling myself—an exhausting
and ungrateful enterprise.
I did this so earnestly that I was, in fact,
convinced 

I had invented the vocation.

I just kept carving
and carving.

Did I ever succeed? in scraping clean
the rind.  in turning myself
inside-out.  What is left?
after such a thorough cauterization.

One raw little soul.

I can still taste that grief
in my mouth like champagne, icy
& no hint of sweetness.

I could have stayed inside all day.

Meanwhile on the quad, a pretty girl
walks her small white dog
across the grass & shadows
sprawl across the perfect lawn

with their splotchy memory.
Although memory, I am learning,
always give back much more color
than what was there in the first place.

I look back now, and I want to feel 
that grass 
on my skin.  But all I can remember
is that I hated my life

and I hated my life.

The feeling comes
and goes, but at least I find
a quiet absolution in my landscape:
the restfulness of books
and sunlight in an empty room
that transforms the isolation
into something else entirely.

Dear Astrid

Loneliness is the human condition.
Cultivate it. The way it tunnels into you
allows your soul room to grow.

Never expect to outgrow loneliness.
Never hope to find people who will understand you,
someone to fill that space.  An intelligent, sensitive person
is the exception,
the very great exception.

If you expect to find someone who will understand you,
you will grow murderous
with disappointment.
The best you'll ever do is to understand yourself,
know what it is that you want,
and not let the cattle get in the way.

Moo.

Image

Excerpt adapted from White Oleander, by Janet Fitch.

Panicked Animal

After everything, I couldn’t stand to be alone
in my bedroom, so I started sleeping on the couch.
Then I couldn’t stand the couch
so I slept outside in the grass,
but I couldn’t stand the grass.

So I slept in my body, strung from my ankles and my wrists
like a hammock. When I couldn't stand my body,
I chiseled myself out of it. This use of knives
broke my heart, because it was an act of violence.
My weakness broke my heart, because Julia comes from Jupiter.
The meaning of my name broke my heart because I would rather
be beautiful than strong. My vanity broke my heart
because I am a scholar. My education broke my heart
because universities are mostly lonely places
and knowledge, in the end, is empty.

My emptiness ate me alive; I was starving to be whole.
The thought of wholeness broke my heart
because it is elusive and I could not have it.
So I tried to rationalize wholeness
as the mastery of all interests: I walked into the yard
trying to vomit and pray simultaneously. I fell asleep
while whispering a love song. I was empty empty
empty. I've had enough heartbreak
to fill every inch of this house.  Really,
I was drowning
in a room I couldn't stand.