I come from gravel falling from the mouth, a bent spine
from which my mother rose, from the sickness that poured
over my father in water buckets. That was the well he fell into
and the well where I waited, a body cutting into water on impact.
My face is the only heirloom, fixed in gold. The features
which swirled down a drain. I come from that too, not sewage
nor explosion but a phantom lock, a combination set
to be opened. A slap in the dark. A gun goes off.
I come from the story of chicken breeders, of nurses, of railroad,
bone soup, chopping block, the work of chopping, then finally food.
I come from handmade shirts hanging in my stepfather’s closet.
I come from the spit and curses that careened from his mouth
like anvils and vespers. Lamps unlit, medicine, tubes,
worn flags, failing lungs making up an American song
in each room of the house. I come from stickball bat
and missing bases, empty trailer in the lot across the street,
light that flickered on and off signaling one lone presence.
I come from the broad birds and the day demons, the ash
from a childhood burn, tin cans of dried pens, newspaper,
seashells, a phoenix fixed in a souvenir bottle. Every bit saved
as if discard were memory itself. As if I lived on paper, a breeze.
I come from wayward bicycle, departure through a heavy door,
a forklift, a lion’s claw, a den of starving wolves. I am frantic
running through the house, closing shutters, hiding silverware.
I am found in my bed, breathing. I come from a dead end
that opened toward the brick face of a horizon which glowed
like God’s goat face, a wild compassion, a guttural sound
from the throat. I come from the last funeral, my stepfather
in a casket with all the living flowers, his hands sewn
together in death though I remember in life they raged
punctuating each hungry vowel. How the orchids
overwhelmed his body, his poisonous face. Face
of my past. I come from that too, from the indifference
of doors and keys, from the sonnet of the sewing machine
which wrestled my neck at the collar and all my words
caught at the throat, struggled to make one stitch, a straight line.
I come from those birds: heron, robin, grackle.
The ones you cannot catch. The ones that sound
like owls or witches. I come from the rough seas of this sort
of battle, of consequences all too familiar and fantastic.
I gulp the world’s water, salt with rage, froth with effort.
I come from that, the flailing struggle, my afterlife waiting for me,
and a future summoning at my ankles. The future is an animal
waiting to pounce. It is that bestial. That patient.
I come from that too.