I don’t need a way to describe the potential energy of
my grandfather’s mug as it creates a ring like the eye of a squid
on the table just moments before his gasping chases air around the room
and he becomes a vortex of controlled fires clearing this block
for new life. Before us now stand the few remaining sunsets,
chained up in a new apartment where the flooring is uniform,
destructive, cold and there are no neighbors, no one to come
knocking when they start to smell, no special police unit looking for them.
As if such losses were acceptable and to see farther was to see more.
I waltz with the corpse of the universe and keep moving its hand to my hip.
One two three, one two three, over and over the dust never stops swirling.
My last dance partner explained that she prefers shark attacks
over human ones because the stomachs are bigger, but
I just couldn’t agree. Do you know how much funerals cost?
Of course, the price of anything typically depends on who’s counting
and with how many guns. That is not new information,
but if this is your first time, know that we got a term for it around here.
It’s California money, and dead jellyfish still sting. It’s a
passive reaction, the way the earth is an open mouth
into which everything disappears. What’s more human than that?
I Sing the Body Distant
I gotta forget how narratives move,
a line I trace across and around barbed wire.
An accent is ugly when someone teaches it
to you with one hand covering their mouth,
or your mouth, or someone else’s, though
it isn’t always a hand. What gets let out
is not as important as what’s kept in.
That’s where the money is, but you ain’t
gonna feed your family with it.
Here’s something we share:
the capacity to smother.
There are millions of ways, some sweet;
mother, father, I know I used to be
more like my sister but I am not bold.
Wine unraveled each twin in a different way,
both sounding the same, like glass being walked on
or chewed yet welling from the mouth
as if liquid and pooling in my shoes.
I try not to forget why I’m here.
If I lean too hard on it, this moment
might collapse. The boxes I put
the world in conceal me too,
under the wood floor where people
put other people they’re trying to save.
Everything I am is in my body.
The world must touch me to see it.
I was carried into bed with want and
found a language. Now every meal
sits in my mouth until my friends
come and take it. Before today,
I thought life was about satisfaction.
Before today, maybe it was.
It helps to be reminded of the possibilities,
what a house is capable of—
how all its angles keep the tongue
from dragging in the dirt.
In the beginning, God created everything except the desert,
as it was here before him. The desert was a god once, too,
is made of tile, feels wet right now but has never been aroused.
Kiss me, whispers the desert, kiss me with your coffee breath.
Many men have found god in the desert and many women
have found him in their bedrooms, but I have only seen him
in the bathroom, at the urinal, and he drops his pants to his ankles,
every time, and doesn’t wash his hands.
See the way the desert bleeds from exposure
to the light reflecting off the hands of sock-puppet kings? When I was a child
my veins looked the same and I bled the same and went to the desert
and it said to me, “there is safety in becoming mixed in, mixed in with the blood, alright?”
I have been here since then, in the blood, and asked the advice of many others,
but I’ve never gotten a better offer from the mountains or the valleys, which
get laid all the time.
From the sky, at night, all the earth looks the same: a curtain full of holes,
some bigger than others but every one as confused as the last. I would
point them out, show them to little people in their metal cities,
but my fingers still plug the holes from which I pulled my baby teeth.
The desert has many fingers but will not use them, because it only
lusts after the sun, wants to touch its face, was tricked into moving to Phoenix,
misunderstood what “the Valley of the Sun” actually meant.
hates this city.
Loathing missionaries, loving Mary, the desert
tries to bear the same bloody fruit. Lama sabachthani, darling?
Tonight there is a party in the valley and the mountains are pink and blue
and taking stock of their precious metals.
In response, the desert splits open and shakes. I shake too,
as I am the temple of the desert and the cathedral of the cactuses, and all
of us lie down together and sing. We sing from the lowest, driest parts of the earth.
We sing about migratory birds and other, similarly confused holes in the black sky.
We sing for my sisters and my brothers and for the second best donuts
in town; full of jelly
or maybe blood.
The way decisions get made shouldn’t surprise anyone.
At night we watch the birds for signs,
and if one dies mid-flight we know exactly what to do.
Our days are all about old language, watch us
stab old language, watch its pathetic blood kill us.
We hunt with sticks. We’re just kids after all and love
failure because we know how good it feels to
fall from grace and destroy the mountain
instead of climbing back up.
There Is a Lie I Tell in Which I’m Fully Grown and Stable
I shouldn’t have to defend this dress.
I wove it from big bluestem grass
near where the prairie ends.
What we call the west—
nobody asked you to love it
or pretend that it belongs to me,
though we are the same, how we hide,
lay flat against the skin
of the sky’s eyelids.
These roads and tracks aren’t veins or arteries.
The plain is not a body or an organ. It has no heart.
The oxygen and blood come from somewhere else.
Maybe we make them ourselves,
but if I no longer feel like a cell,
its because I have defied my birth,
seen the land from above. This
kind of understanding is also a lie,
no more than dirt and grass.
That’s what I mean when I say
I have held live geese
by the head
to let them know that I exist too.
Gage Ledbetter is a poet from Texas and the co-founder of the journal Alien Mouth. They tweet @gage_ledbetter