Mudlark Poster No. 120 (2014)

Five Poems by Katharine Coles

Hive | Longevity | Taste of a Wound Not Healing
Self Portrait from a Negative | Submersible


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.

Taste of a Wound Not Healing

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.

Self Portrait from a Negative

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.

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