No daughter of mine
To think I wasted my witch spit
on you: almost-woman trapping rabbits in her bare hands just to stroke their fur. Petter of fawn and fox. Lover of calf, and pup, and runt. How carefully you touch the trees. Didn’t I mark you with my own claws? Feral cat, little thistle in my heart, didn’t I teach you to feed? I should have turned away the first time I saw such soft fires in your eyes. Midnight falls on the fields and finds you threadbare, walking in new-fallen snow, thin as a wishbone that knows only hunger. The moon and I see right through the white gown your mother abandoned you in – laurel and ash always in your hair, your body still a child. In spite of everything, I love you enough to break the sparrow’s neck myself. And yet, you flinch.
No one loves like the dead.
Like moths, they drown themselves
in our light – and nothing is brighter
than the bonfire of a wounded heart
that cannot cauterize itself. A heart
now shattered into many empty
rooms, wide open spaces seething
with trees that toss their beauty
to the ground, if only to make
the fall a little softer for the living.
Maples, birch and fir shelter the
dead who now crouch outside
a window where somebody closes
her eyes and tries to sleep.
They watch as quivering lids
dart like deer, leaping after the
dream of a lover who once knew
the whole truth of blood and bone,
fingers fishing for rings, hunger
that rumbled and snapped. The dead
love you now more than ever because
you have always wanted their bodies
and now, at last, they know what
it means. Desire sharp as the tines
of a tuning fork fills the belly
that lives. The belly that doesn’t.
The dead are hungrier than anyone.
Give me the flesh of the peach, they say.
The eye of the storm that once raged
between us, the buzz of honey on the
tongue, salt licked from skin, fine hairs that rise on the neck, one hand asleep on
the small of the back. Who says the longing lies down when the body is buried?
Tell me you feel it – the love that is still holding on by the skin of its teeth.
Stacey Forbes’ poem “Speaking of trees” won first place in the 2021 Plough Poetry Prize. Her poems are published or forthcoming in Carve, Split Rock Review, The American Journal of Poetry, Blue Mountain Review, and Barren. Born in the white birch woods of Pennsylvania, Stacey now lives in Tucson, Arizona.