Christine Hamm lives and teaches in New Jersey (USA).
She recently edited an anthology of creative works
inspired by Sylvia Plath and she has been published
in Denver Quarterly, Nat Brut, Painted Bride
Quarterly and many others. She has published six
chapbooks, and several books — her fourth, Girl into
Fox, is coming out in 2019.
Through the Woods to Grandmother's House
Let's repaint those lips
for a kiss. In my lost shoulder bag: five sheets of yellow
construction paper, my father suddenly, a ring made
of teeth, ten TV dinners, and a box
in the shape of a prayer.
The strap breaks. At the fork in the path, I mistake cardinals
for flickers. Let's pick a grandma and commit. When I come
on the wrong day, my therapist tells
me to stop apologizing
for my father. I confuse the crow with the red-wing blackbird,
Wednesday with Friday. This morning in the meadow, I confused
lace gloves with love. Let's remix this
porridge. The weeds blossom:
purple with yellow hearts, as the swallows and cowbirds and
grackles claw each other out of trees. Dark now: I hate the moon,
its incarnations. You are mad; I whine,
you are always mad at me.
We're the same age, wear the same silk skirt, but your hem is
neater, unstained, raveled. Your knee socks never sag. The yellow
honeysuckle wilts at the fountain.
Needles, then pins. We
pretend animals can talk—that they care what we're thinking.
Then you on a small bed, tucked in your hood, showing cleavage:
my father suddenly on top of you.
He is "just kidding". I haul
him off—a groaning bear, huge, reeking of meat. We'll reheat
this oven. Let's unbotton the skirt I envy, and straddle the blood
creek. I'll trim your nails and teeth
while you're cosy. Let's
roll you in a room with six metal doors and, when you wake up,
you guess this time which one is electrified, which one tender.
(Isn't it good?) Sea lions are not dominated by fear; they are dominated by entitlement. (I sat
on a rug, biding my time.) Sea lions feel that if a cheetah doesn't share her specific pudding
with them, they are free to burn her house down. They write songs about burning down
the house of cheetahs who wouldn't share with them. These songs are played on the radio
long after the singers are dead. The tune is always whimsical, easy going, and many cheetahs
will be unclear about what happens at the end of the song. Much of the song's meaning hangs
on the word, "had", —the sea lion sang, "I once had a cheetah, or should I say, she had me".
If the sea lion "had" the cheetah, that means he possessed her, like a fist grabs a blue jay, prevents
it from flight, revels in the struggle of those slick feathers. (I once had a girl.) The sea lion having
the cheetah involves a penny; the penny is the fist, the mark of ownership. On the other
hand, if a cheetah "has" a sea lion, she "tricks" him, she evades him. She does not allow him
to have her, which is "cheating". She invited him into her apartment, ergo, she owes him rice
pudding. (She showed me her room.) Rice pudding is the mark of having and of being had,
depending on your gender. To add salt to the singer's wounded ear flaps, she laughs at him.
(I sat on a rug, biding my time. Drinking her wine.) Again, this is a sign of her "having" him.
(This bird had flown.) By not sharing pudding with him, she is depriving him of what he is due.
Once a sea lion enters a cheetah's apartment, a contract has been established. She will
remove her tail and offer him her pudding. If this fails to happen, because of weather,
disease, disaster, stubbornness or a flaw in the cheetah's psyche, a deep fracture occurs
in the earth's surface. (So I lit a fire.)
Notes on Tourism
Pebbles and wet gravel. An unkempt lawn, battered silver sidewalk guards. An endless airport with ceilings that flake and disappear. What's left of a fender. Blacktop. Asphalt, cracking, splitting. One of my elbows, bruised, oozing. The smell of moist books.
The drifting leaves of a maple. I can't figure out where the poor or ugly are kept. Squirrels chittering and running, then pausing to stare. An enameled flower necklace yanked, so I am dragged a few feet before it breaks. Bushes in the shapes of screwdrivers and tops. This ceiling was planked wood, once. Now plaster and white paint. You take a selfie. I feel a strange humiliation in my hands.
Triangles, squares and fires. A museum of common shapes. We try to learn how to say "please" and "the check" in pleasing high voices. Words that read good or God on wooden plaques near a door. The door a portal, a game. Each door has a tiny high window, shuttered. The smell of bleach and coffee. One door explodes, gunpowder all over our shirts. Your ear lobe burns. One door is red with glass we can see all the way through. That is the end door and I avoid it. What I like, what I pretend to like. We never talk about what really happens.
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