In the morning my head hums And wings. Small bodies wriggle My ears, tidy their chambers. Flesh Crawling, abuzz, I have No need for combs but so many Questions. What on earth Did I dream, for example, and where is Sting. How did they find Themselves in? Occupied, never Have I been so gently kept.
In a world full of poison you survived The copperhead you carried into Your mother’s kitchen whipping Its tail while she screamed. Your father Beheaded it with a shovel on the linoleum Then beat you blue. That was just The first. Later came water moccasins, Rattlers, asp at breast And scorpion at the heel, black widow Hiding in the laundry minding Her own bloody hourglass until your hand Reached in: the world provided No such end but left you after All that for me and for me counting down Bite by bite what eats you.
Without licking A finger, without Touching a thing. It is Already inside, lying Its long body along The tongue. Stretch And purr. What luxury, Nothing left to do.
I am not something inside me. I do not Need to turn inside- Out to get at the heart of things, to what I wear on my sleeve breaking And breaking on itself, beating That same dead horse. How many times A lifetime will I be not My brain flipping out. Could I be The sense of something pressing Fingertips, salt on my tongue. A flash, Rumors I believe, so many Tickles, a rumbling. My mind Is played—breeze over a field, a million Separate blades of grass moving One body, unison.
Little man at the window keeps saying What’s your system. He has Buttons to push and levers in red Rubber sleeves; looking out Over the dash he wants to think I’m deep, wants to steer Something forth, and all That’s on my mind is that pair Of blue patent creepers, their precisely Pointed toes. It’s always been This way, the world open-faced And full of shoes and submarines Ready to dive, me putting Nose clips on, ready to follow.
Katharine Coles’ fifth collection, The Earth is Not Flat (Red Hen Press, 2013), was written under the auspices of a grant from the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Artists and Writers Program, which sent her to live for a month in Antarctica. Ten poems from that collection, translated by the poet Klaus Martens, appeared in June in the German journal Matrix. Other recent poems and nonfiction have appeared in Poetry, Image, The Seneca Review, and Crazyhorse among other places. She was a 2012-13 Guggenheim Fellow in poetry.