Signs and Portents



God speaks to you out of the maelstrom,
and I am the stormcloud
and I am the thunder
and I am the Word.

The Word said:

“Sometimes, for no reason,
bad things do not happen.
The other shoe never drops.
The sky does not fall,
the earth does not tremble.
You do not lose your livelihood.
Your marriage does not fail.
You do not lose touch with your adult children.”


It is like this:
Yes, the blood on the teeth of my house is mine,
but who among us has not been fodder to a home?
What is a house that does not hunger?

There is only so long you can keep making
stock of the same bones.
These remains crumble to the touch.
It is time to throw them out.


My mother’s tread, my father’s voice,
the undercooked squeak of chicken
against my teeth: the sounds of home,
and the blasting horns and crowing triumph
of the hunting band, its sodden footprints
tracking miles back to the still-raw kill.

“I stalked you for hours through
the undergrowth with a musket.
With two thunderclaps I broke your ankle
and gored you in the throat. I tailed
your squealing and your reddened stagger
five furlongs further, impatient,
breathless — at long last, you fell.
I took your skin with its dorsal mane,
coarse and dark, for a winter’s coat, and
your horns and teeth I took for trophies.”

The signs and portents surrounding my birth.


On the appointed days,
for my filial piety
I pull out the sackcloth,
put on my ashes,
gnash my teeth,
wail my grief

for a ne’er-do-well’s daughter
who bellowed her own disappointments,
berated her own failures, sabotaged
her own success to punish her own insolence,
taught herself to soothe and make scarce on tiptoe,
terrified herself with her own senseless aggression,

squeezed her own face in her own vise-like grip,
choked herself with her bare hands in her own bed,
screamed herself scarlet in her own voice —
spittle pelting her own eyes —
drove herself recklessly into a wreck —
the impact on the passenger side where she sat —
made her own apologies, spun her own excuses,
riddled her own memory with holes and flimsy fictions —

all this to pretend she had a father
to well-meaning strangers, teachers, friends;
all this to excuse the beast beneath her bed.

A monster is no-one’s father.


The problem with this house is mostly
meals that were not cleaned up in time,
blood left unscrubbed to clot and scab,
cud chewed for years and decades on end.

It is time now to root for fresh blood,
and slaughter the truffle-hogs next.
Who among us does not make a hollow home?
What is a hunger that goes unfilled?


The bride of vipers — her bleeding heart
speaks with its mouth full.

“Oh, but you must not blame the monster!
He had his own monster to excuse,
his own pain, his own side of your story!
If his claws were fearsome, well,
you cannot deny he came by them honestly.”

“Oh, but you must not deny the monster!
Carry on his claws, or bear them on your back!”
Damned if I’d neither, I scratch my own skin to threads.


The Word said:

“The Adversary has begged me
to dismantle your house
from foundation to rafters with
my bare hands and the knowledge
of what you did with yours,
and I have not. But I spare you
not for mercy, not for you.”

“Were I to bring your life down
tumbling around your ears —
what would we eat?
Where, then, would we live?”


Does the money trail lead always
back into the arms of our father
— his straining sinews, creaking floorboards — ?

Then this I know of the house that money built:
Thither will I not go.

The buttresses burdened by my father’s house
groan under the weight of so many cells,
lightless, divided, multiplied, fit to lyse.
The buttress — that is, me — stews, dreams of flight;
hollows her belly, stewards her wall with
only the most distant, phalangeal tips of her fingers;
holds at arms’ length, imagines letting go.
The buttress, that is, dreams of collapse.


The Word said:

“My hands are tied
up in the maelstrom.
This world is too large, too
full, too noisy to be just.”

“And it binds my throat for you,
since you’ve gone so hands-off;
the people who love you and the
people that I love keep busy,
spinning a cord the color of silence,
spinning their hair into gold.”