Three Prose Poems, by Susan Isaak Lolis.
Susan Isaak Lolis received her MFA from the University of Miami. Her poetry is forthcoming in New Madrid. She teaches creative writing and literature at Florida Atlantic University.
Picking lamb’s quarter and sour dock in the field, teaching me the difference between wild onions and crow poison, my mother moves like a dancer in the weeds. She blows on canasta cards on the back porch, her mouth an “O” before dealing a hand to anyone, she shudders when mysterious cloche hats drape on the bed, when spatsies swoop in the house, death sewn on their glossy black wings. I still see her with the axe from the shed carving the looming juniper, its shadow tall enough to cover a grave.She had a premonition that we’d drop her in the mud that soaked up our footprints. When the lid flew open, for an instant I thought it wasn’t her, that she was away drinking gin and dancing the jitterbug at Buster Wortman’s bar in East St. Louis, that we made a mistake. Then I closed it and the hidden body was hers again, not heavy and swollen, but weightless, baptized in the muddy river.
You smelled like ripe tomatoes when you loaded me up in the car clinging to my corncob doll and a silvery halo of weaved dandelion greens and drove down Highway 13 past his house. Flushed, crying for a man you kissed, you tore the handkerchief he gave you in long strips like curled lashes, telling me never to be like you. Your chin thrust out like a fierce peninsula as you accelerated, leading me away from scarred arms from blackberry picking, cold railway cars eating butter beans and drop dumplings, prison visits to see him with rhubarb pie. I scrambled up on the seat and ducked my head out the window, coal dust soaked in my skin, and you yelled at me, get down or you’ll die. I slapped your thick-knotted hands away and leaned out further, inhaling the spilled gin and floating juniper, watching it become a green smudge.
The knife I use to gut the fish was my grandfather’s. this one’s pregnant,he says, appearing at my elbow. His finger pokes the small pink sacs quivering with spatters of blood like a crimson eye, unblinking. With a grotesque kiss, its lips pucker, spits out the hook. scrape the guts, make it look like this. He holds out his palm, white flesh, embalmed, ready to eat. I reach for the knife, silver fins flake in the sheathe of my hands as I hold the blade over the rib cage. The breeze turns cooler, the sun sinks behind the stripped sycamore freezing it in amber. The last of the wild onions are gone, and the ground is bare. I reach for him to wash his body, remove his vestments, but I am alone. Among the sleeping fish, there is one, red gullet gulping. I release it and it falls quietly next to the fish heads and devoured spiny cages, unknowing and silent, submerging my regret in the mouth of the river.
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