My mother must’ve been sweaty that summer day in suburban
Chicago when I popped out. Maybe the infection in her breasts
that stopped her milk, maybe the valve in my tummy that refused
to set, whatever, I wailed for months unconsoled like only one could
when ripped from the preworld. What’s it like to walk a small house
on the late shift, wife trying to sleep a bit, and if you stop moving
your bundle erupts, so you have your route past the front door, big
window, couch into kitchen for a few spins on the linoleum, peer
out the back door and back you go in the dark, bouncing lightly,
pale glow of street lights in at an exhausted angle. Night so long,
path so short, not exactly boredom, but beyond. And what about
this baby whose one gear stuck on wail pierces you with a pain
at some point you can only ignore? A cool breeze finally blows at
four a.m. and you’re walking wounded wearing grooves into your
floor, blood shot eyes on bedroom door that doesn’t open – a good
sign she’s getting sleep but no relief for you in sight, so you stare
down interminable not quite night, its languid breeze, this little life lightly
asleep in your arms. Who knew seven pounds could feel so heavy?
Full of near feral cats, the house way out
in Old Washington, shadows perched
peripheral, traces of a tail at sideways glances,
glowing eyes multiplied in a far corner. The smell:
a mix past some tipped point of hairball, shit
and death. The woman lived alone and didn’t let on
about any of it, just pointed us to the old washer
to haul away. We worked in winter’s pre-dinner dark.
My father, Sears store manager and in these
later years right before the store closed also
Delivery man, cinched the canvas strap
around the washer’s waist, turned the crank
that tugged the strap even tighter, pulled it even
closer to the hand truck. Lowering the washer down
the back stairs plunk after low plunk, he did
the hard work, let it down gentle, tightness
across his face like a fake smile for the photo
that doesn’t exist. My sixteen-year-old self
had to slow our descent, watch the wheels
shudder each of the old wooden steps
to their bend’s end, bent but somehow holding.
“It’s why she wanted to be loved and left alone.”
A friend remembered the day they brought
your body out of Patchen Place,
the last rare glimpse shrouded in white,
no more crackers for dinner, no more books
thrown out windows at Carson McCullers
who was old enough to know better.
The pilgrimages of the young, you were
used to them, you were done with them.
“We need to preserve the neighborhood,
so muggers have a place to ply their trade.”
I’d like to see someone try to take yours
from you; you’d ice them with your eyes
watch them run, and laugh. That kind of burn,
hard won. To escape a father like that,
you not only have to run, when he tries
to pawn you off, you sting. Go far away
to feast on Paris in that famous photo
half vampire, half victim in a high collar.
I’d barely heard of you when they asked me
to work on your estate. I first came to know you
through the confusion of your copyrights,
doubled and mirrored, yellowed contracts, your
fading lines, typewritered clean, and the surprising
number of requests to borrow a bit of your shine.
The director with the movie rights
kept putting off the film, not yet, too much
rust, too much rage, too much poetry,
too much hate, too much lust, too much night.
Yes, good luck bringing you to life, your lips,
your acid, your wit, your eyes. I fear
I’ve failed you again here. I’ve tried so many times,
but you cast a long shadow. Your darkness has many
deviations, goes down, rises up white, a lack of air.
In the night of my heart, you come alive at the end,
alive at the beginning, a conqueror, a friend.
Flesh has the texture of plants. Bow down.
The two nails I pound a little too wide into the stump
like old TV antennae, so it takes two tries to catch
her head, her calm glassy eye up at me. “Well done,”
my father-in-law says. “Clean strike.” Flystrike: who
would think flies could cause so much damage so fast,
such a wound for their eggs to hatch, such a bloom
of maggots like death’s thin white blanket with a tight
cotton weave. I wonder if her body might try to run away
like some not-yet but soon to be ghost. Her chicken body
falls into bag with a thick red splurt across stump and onto
field grass clumped like paint. Her wings flap a few times
as I scoop her separate head onto hatchet blade and dump
it into bag. Rosie, such a sweet bird, trail of matted blood
behind her as she stands, body puffed out, head tucked down
and into wing – if she can’t see what’s happening to her, it’s
not happening. Her neck cord snapped a sound like clipping
a plastic zip tie with scissors, the clunk of the hatchet surprisingly
deep in the stump. Just sharpened; I’m grateful for the right tool.
Jefferson Navicky is the author of the forthcoming Antique Densities, a book of modern parables, as well as the poetic novel, The Book of Transparencies, and the story collection, The Paper Coast. His work has been published in Smokelong Quarterly, Electric Literature, Beloit Poetry Journal, Tarpaulin Sky, and Fairy Tale Review. He is the archivist for the Maine Women Writers Collection, and lives on the coast of Maine.