Three Little Words

— Philip Schaefer


I broke the beast open on the rusted hood
of my drinking. A snapping like a boy
tearing jerky with cannibal teeth.
One creature’s future becoming another’s
afternoon snack. And like that we twitch
into nothings. I shouldered my guilt with a car
jack and took away a memory of meadows and limp
berries. Skull, a crimson fountain, melting diadem.
Some trophies belong fifty yards off the highway, hanging
on the hook of an elm, painted by wind. No matter
what they tell us, it is possible to drive past empty
until the sun is a blood orange resting on the bed
of my tongue. To swallow it whole until my insides glow.
You can try & try to scrub off the stink, peel back
the carcass until all that’s left is your name.


Say we slit our couches open like stomachs. Say we ate
the foam. With the first gland of lightning we shot
up. Took our bones as ivory, liquid husk. Say we fell
north, our own puppeteers, stuck to the ceiling
like penciled rain. Say victim say prey say used catheter—
the equator line for feeling then not feeling. Some days
our eyes rolled back like tobacco through the thumbs
of our skulls. Say we deserved each other. Twin storms
unraveling at the gums. Your mouth a transistor
radio that went on and off. I could live inside forever
and pull apple trees from the roots in your hair. Say ether,
flood warning, bad coke. We rubbed our bodies
into murals. We danced like shadows at a drive-in theater.
This, our way of wearing pigeon masks at all hours.
Other days we forgot how to dial our mothers. I drank
saline from an IV. The nurse hummed a yellow brick
road. A child sobbed. Say you were actually there. Please.


To become a measurement for the thing you already are. A million clips of sand blown into glass, shaped into an hour, only to be filled with its own body. I remember my uncle sipping four knuckles of hard brown, stiff as sheet rain on the back porch, silent as the thing the wind touches after it’s gone. I don’t want to remember what he said of dogs with missing tongues, horses whose eyes became moons you could see with the tip of your rifle. To mimic the woman with arms raised, floating above the dance floor like champagne. My mother carried my sister years after she was gone. We buried her in a kettle pot in the backyard. Her face the size of a hummingbird’s chest. When my mother sang, kitchen window open, you could hear the earth whistle back. To stand alone in the middle of memory, to think: if only. I took what was left of my family, broke them into pieces. Let my feet sink through, sand milling in my teeth until I could feel their ancient screaming. I swam & swam until a gasp of air became the ocean floor.

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