WHEN I DIE, LET ME COME BACK AS THE EVENING
gown the tremoctopus gathers
around her in the sea’s dark. Iridescent,
and for once it’s the perfect word: her skirt
glows like a burning opal. She delights
in herself, six sinuous feet long. Her mate:
a walnut-sized afterthought whose arms
aren’t long enough to hold her down,
unlike some males of some species.
She does as she likes, posing for deep sea
paparazzi once every few years. Her mystery
makes each tentacle shimmer: a magic eye
painting that resists every shape
you long to see. Smart as a whip,
she’ll rip an arm from a man
o’ war: her clever weapon. Look
but don’t touch unless I ask, in which case
please. Touch me like a watercolor
that still isn’t dry. I contain everything
I’ll ever need. And if not the rainbow
blanket octopus, let me live again
inside a question: not why does she exist
but why are we built for beauty. What
is her purpose, they’ll wonder. And I’ll blink
the moon-white coins of my eyes.
The fire has a woman’s face:
holds it in its liquid teeth. Tangerine:
it wrinkles into ember, into anecdote,
as it will someday or already has.
The fire needs constant tending,
starved for transformation.
What does your tattoo say? asks every man
who burns his body into my bed.
The fire leaves its own mark, an altar
of what was joy: ash and memory.
Like men, a good one needs less tending,
has tinder enough to last. It says
the fire lives inside me, in words,
in what has come before. If you let me
share your heat, I’ll scorch you. Smoldering,
ready: every kiss is wild as gasoline.
The fire dies down. I blow it back to life
or try, like my women have always done.
That’s cool, the man says, not knowing how hot
I run. Wand in hand, I can’t quit prodding
the fire: the warmth of two fools,
booze-blazed on what might be. Like the magazines
I feed the flames, good love catches quick
in a woman’s hearth. I remembered
the fire is all I am, I don’t say. Out of the ash
they’ll pull me, dry brush gripped in my hands.
ON LEAVING THE VACUUM OUTSIDE
They’ve invented a dress
that holds the heat of unwanted
touch, men’s hands fingerpainting
our hips and cruel breasts. Beautiful,
and not enough. We can’t stop
our fear by seeing it: the spider
tests the lucid walls of its prison.
We are fools to think we’ve solved
its grasp, its ceaseless hunting,
if we don’t end it while we can.
When you live alone, you have to kill
the bugs yourself. Helping hands
are hard to come by. But it’s in there.
And it’s so, so hungry.
Born and raised in the Midwest, Caitlin Cowan’s poetry, fiction, and nonfiction have appeared or are forthcoming in New Ohio Review, Pleiades, SmokeLong Quarterly, Entropy, and elsewhere. A finalist for the Levis Prize in Poetry and the BOAAT Book Prize, she has won the Littoral Press Poetry Prize, the Mississippi Review Prize, and a Hopwood Award. She holds a PhD in English and has taught writing at the University of North Texas, Texas Woman’s University, and Interlochen Center for the Arts, and serves as the Director of International Tours at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp. Find her at caitlincowan.com.