Women cut themselves open for the beauty of predators. Rouging my snarl, I remember my first tough bitch: Were it not for her teeth, she would have been stunning. But her stained gums. Her maw of broken home. I was a child and she was child-like. I was a child and she was crazy—that’s the story.
(Wielding criminal statistics like baby fists, a pop psychiatrist in Psychology Today twists the crazy-violent riddle as if it were a neck: Does crazy cause violence or does violence cause crazy, our confetti word for other, for annihilation for animal? My adult perspective intrudes parenthetical to childhood, it does not cannot protect.)
Her bite, a pit of hot light and mute. So much silence you could build a house with it. Then a far ringing, the house of silence collapsing under noise, a meteor through the living room and the wolfdog running off, whining— regretfully, I hoped, though I knew better.
(“The wolves follow their meat.” —Jack London, The Call of the Wild)
Trailing hair, scalp slid through my fingers. When she saw me, my mother dropped a wine glass. I couldn’t tell if the sound, the shattering, was outside or inside me. At the hospital, I got a lollipop and a rabies shot.
(Got, that guttural Norse verb of calamity : I got no face left.)
I wore gauze, but I was a child and didn’t care what I looked like. I didn’t know children were supposed to look like anything. The surgeon beautified me.
Cutting the face from childhood, the adult perspective coos you’ll thank me later.)
I have two faces. One, the reflection in the mirror. The other no one will love, though I feel it longing for touch, scabbing up through skin. Habit keeps me dyeing the silver hair springing from the one scar the surgeon couldn’t make pretty, the pale line disturbing the scalp you could say gently, in the way a needle is gentle as it silences, forever, an animal on a clean table surrounded by well-meaning adults. I raise fruit from my mercy-killed brute, paint my farmhouse white.
(I build a life).
The Road Back
I start at the end of the Pacific Coast Highway with one long word I can’t pronounce but sing, sometimes cutting my tongue on gas station almonds tasting of dust, the dead keeping in touch,
I start with a jar of dust. Toss it to my muse, who juggles urns like hot potatoes, Oh, my, GOD, he says, I already have five of these things. He fits the five urns in the five cup holders of his getaway car of red lacquer, of Springsteen-haunted radio hiss: End up like a dog that’s been beat too much—
I start with my childhood dog, half wolf like I am half bitch. Her name, cŵn Annwn, stutters like my last ancestor in the immigration office, her song lilts the sentence of don’t forget your mother tongue, which lopes lustrous as the death I chase for no reason,
I start with a reason but drop it in the biker bar where the dead dads sing their regrets. They are all the dead dads. Dead dads past. Dead dads future. Dead dads of dead dads, and their dead dads bellowing bluebirds,
I start with a light-leaked photograph of dad, think, Damn, hating dads is American as shooting children. My dad hated my grandfather, his TV dinners and wristwatches, all that unforgivable defeat. What will the patriarchy do when it runs out of defeat? Will it die, humiliated, only to learn Death is a hot lesbian? Death upholsters her Camaro in jade, gets tequila drunk at the club before screeching to the Taco-Bell drive-thru where I find her cracking nachos in her seven red mouths. This was never the land of our fathers. I leave the Sierra Mountains bleeding, buy a scratch-off ticket, jump on the first horse I find.
I start an American knight riding into the American night, a cathedral smelling of gasoline and smoking waitresses. Waving his great gold dildo, the bishop yells HURRY UP. I bristle my armor of habits. Scrape myself with tattoos, sigils to keep my taxes low, the shape-shifting bad boys with their long hair out of my bed,
I start with my bed and stay in it. Listen again to Born In the U.S.A. Visiting my hometown, I feel like Bruce Springsteen in that I believe a bold synthesizer can push grief far from the political rally mistaking elegy for anthem, that a snare drum can toss lyric higher than the gods of war. I don sunglasses for my walk to the kitchen, where I pour myself a watery Diet Coke. Visiting my hometown, I’m kind of a big deal, weeping in the necks of horses, breaking speed limits with my only lover left alive here, on earth, I don’t hear the highway for the deafening crocuses.
Clare Welsh is a poet based in Pittsburgh. A graduate of The University of New Orleans MFA program, her poems can be found in Puerto Del Sol and The New Delta Review, and forthcoming in The Massachusetts Review and Salt Hill. Her chapbook Chimeras (2015) is available through Finishing Line Press. Currently, she is working on a book about wild dogs.