Cassandra J. Bruner

What Swanplume Boy, through the Stall Floor,
                                       Hears the Chorus from THE SOIL

THE SOIL,                             Before we even knew how to pronounce murder, we wept over Abel’s stonebit
RAIN-GLOSSED                   corpse. Our aquifers, even now, kiss his bones to opaldust. Trust we will sound
                                                 the same lament, build the same plumdark for you.

                                                                They’ve plucked my feathers to famine. How now will he preen

THE HAWKMOTH              Hived in plagued heifers, we read the signs inscribed across their intestinal lining,
LARVAE                                 dimlit & peeling—

                                                 We know what traceless hands are reaching for you with declawing blades. With
                                                 bladder wash. With chemical castrators.

                                                                   me to a mockpearl crest, taste & know

THE LOCUSTS                      Listen, we understand. Though coated with an asphyxiating foam, we still eat
TRANSLATING                      the silver underfuzz of leaf–
MICE                                        Understand fault lies not with desire & its objects, but rather with its intercessors,
                                                   hiding behind their padlocked crucifixes.

                                                                     the scar beneath shaped like a libation bowl

THE LYNX CUB,                     Some of you will die & be the bioluminescent stalks lining the country roads of
UNMOTHERED                      Sheol.

                                                                       emptying? I don’t know if he is.
                                                                                                                                 Closeaway, a dilation of time careens

THE WILD                                 Others will survive & be its unlanterned gatekeepers. Memory, a garter of molten
BLACK ROSES                          thorns pressed to your lips.

                                                                          through a mother’s car window, like a fruit of gods already weaned

THE STRANDS                          Remember how–come scythe, combine, or atrazine— we always reclaimed the
OF GOLDENROD                      prairies & hillsides. How we flashed our bare necks before the blades.

                                                                            worthless. She looks back & the minutes slow

THE HAWKMOTH                    It is already too late, forgive us. We have beheld the self described Perseuses
LARVAE                                       astride their carbonfiber carriages.

                                                                              to the stillbeat of a hummingbird her child holds,

THE LOCUSTS                          Already, forgive us, they’re delousing a bat-winged boy’s hide & power-washing
& NECK-SNAPPED                   his wings.
                                                                                wingbroke. Before the coming month of softsplint & birdfeed,

THE LYNX CUB,                        Already men in another room are heating the pliers, forgive us.
                                                                                a passing truck casts light over her beak

THE WILD                                  [Silent, corollas closed to the wind, they shudder.]
                                                                                 in the faint line of a grin.

THE STRANDS                          The prophets are whiskeydrunk & sleeping it off in the attic. The season of feast,
OF GOLDENROD                      forgive us, has ended.

                                                                                 Tell me, is the way I keep inventing lives a sin?

THE SOIL,                                    Forgive us, we must’ve not shattered our tectonic bones loudly enough, often
FLASH-FLOODING                    enough. Every warning, gone unheard—

                                                                                  Is each one, all rose-filigreed & streaked

ALL                                                O pleasure-nocked, O ensnared, O soonwidow—forgive us.

                                                                                   with sun, erasing the memory of him as it creaks
                                                                                   through? As if you might, or even could, remember his name, I listen


Swanplume boy’s testaments

Month 1, Day 7                   I’ve kept to ritual. Pruned the newborn tufts & shafts before even
                                                light can bear witness. & in witness,

Month 0, Hour 2                When I’m returned home, my mother keeps her hand, cane handle, silkspool
                                                tether tightened to me. Through tarslow, insomniac hours. She didn’t
                                                know my absence, nor the presences contained
                                                within. We’re both
                                                caught, then, in cocoons of silence.

Month 1, Day 7.5                 Sometimes, the puckered flaps of skin look like open mouths. Soundless, singing.
                                                 Throats stuck, protracted, on a stolen word—

Month -2, Day -19               The marsh harrier femme beside me has stopped talking.
Month 4, Day 14                  At the county lilac gardens, I saw the love who fled. He turned
                                                 away. A tiny bulge of muscle in his back, raised &
                                                 twitching, contained hours of conversation.

Month 13, Day 28                I walk into winter alone.
                                                 If I speak, the neighboring forests
                                                 could write answers into my fogged breath, their chill around my exposed

Month -2, Day -19.5            Unlit & picking at the moss clothing the baseboards, I consider
                                                  a folktale my mother once respun. Of a girl who escapes
                                                  her king-father’s advances by pasting & stitching
                                                  the sopping hides of animals over
                                                  her body, unseen. What

                                                  devices, what dresses will I need?

Month 0, Hour 4.5               Our bodies
                                                  have formed a parabola of unsaid I’m sorrys. Neither of us can see
                                                  the end.

Month 37, Day 17                 Name me the tendon threading spirit and body.
                                                  I’m done singing them as two,

Month -2, Day -19.45          Stillwind years in wilderness. The girl, gone foxish, dwells by a lake till
                                                  hunters encircle, march her to the country where she peels
                                                  off skins till nerves leaf with memory. Then

                                                  marriage & the promise of forever-soft
                                                  copper, kind aristocracy. Of romance dreamt in fresco.

Month 4, Day 15                    I lied in half. I saw my ex when—before breath, before thought—
                                                  he spilled out my petname. A river, opening
                                                  on bare heights.

Month 13, Day 29                 Overnight camped beside the creekmouth. The point it feeds into
                                                  an unnamed lake. Its stillness a falsehood. Beneath
                                                  its thin transparent pane, schools of minnows circling around &

                                                  around the skull of a snapping-turtle. Alert, waiting.

Month 37, Day 20                 Funny how I’ve kept to this record, this practice of promising

Month -2, Day -19.4            Two weddings. Two runaways. A cloak of furs
                                                  & a handful of shorn quills. Why do so many narratives require these
                                                  cold symmetries?

Month 14, Day 30                 Outside my tent—a male marsh harrier wearing formel plumage. Small. Outside
                                                   my tent, bones which house all names. As it pecks away a snow hare,
                                                   the men passing above pay no mind.

Month 0, Hour 5                   Quilt, an illusion of safety. A resolution with no arc. Meanwhile morning deepens
                                                  its pockets. So I tell her a story. One she knows. & outside—
                                                  crickets, or are these thrushes now?


Noli me tangere

written as A., in memory

Say     because a man pressed her against a longhorn skull

                                            Say     then after    the surrounding acres mulched

                silent     Say       she was only a runaway     a girl

                                                       with a head full                     of thistles & hornets–

        Each rumor    a shorthand eulogy   siphoning my breath

                                / /

        St. Teresa envisioned God as the sweetness
                                of excessive pain                 a tongue of sun
                    whisking along every nerve–

What is desire but faith made flesh?

                                One body rising to another                 a mouth
                                                                        contracting in worship–

            how         stunt cock lashed around my waist                     I straddle
                                                                                             a man who again & again
                                        moans for his god.     Even Christ

                                                       felt the alure of Lucifer’s hips
                after forty days of caressing sagebrush
                             & whispering to locusts.                     Didn’t my father

                                    ache too, as he rubbed perfume into my mother’s wrists,
                                                                zeroed by illness–

                                / /

To long after         the dead is to long

            for the divine–                                     For a touch

                            which fills all absences or

            an absence which negates all touch

                                / /

I dream I kiss my mother back
            to life  as antlers fan from my back.

                            They snap off in a man’s belly when he yanks
              my nettled hair back.

        Upon waking                 coughs flecked with blood
a faint hoofmark at the back

                of my throat     meaning I don’t need
                                a clinic to tell me there’s no going back

All afternoon I spit a mixture of
                                                             chaw & pomegranate at the backdoors

                           of former friends                     knowing evening will find me
    curved like a switchback

                                                  on the shower floor.                 Hair whitening
in the heat     steam rising from the small of my back.

                                / /

     The gifts left at my doorstep:
                                          floral lotions    pink pastel wigs
                               bombshell push-up bras–

                    Ways to nudge the body
into its former shape       to conceal
                                        the hollows     the bone-flowering

                                         Face sagged like a bloodhound     the crust punk next door
                  hands me a choker     clasped with a thrush’s skull.     I wear it
                                                                                      till it slides lose into the well of my neck.

                                         Till my skin sheds all kindnesses.

                                / /

Don’t make me a saint—what I first say when my friend explains
she’s writing me. I know her love will cast me in stainglass,
resplendent & fragmented. Infused with roseate light &

flattened to a frail sheet. An art object. A thing to adore.
You understand? Don’t whore-with-a-golden-heart me. I liked the work.
I liked to fuck & be fucked
. What I leave unmentioned: How she only sold

her body out of abandonment, out of a need to unravel then recover.
Little icon of wreckage. How she hasn’t called in months.
When she phones again, we swap stories from the missed time—

Her sex toys, lost in transit out west. My partner’s proposal.
Her early months on estrogen & our bodies’ tandem pains, the way
she fills out as I winnow. The poem? I ask, & she admits

I’m still peeling off a few veneers. Describes layer upon layer she’s trimmed—
A pagan folktale overlaid onto mine, a girl who clothes herself
in dirt & animal hide to avert a kingdom’s gaze,

a litany of figures from my Catholic upbringing.
I’m not close enough yet she says. We’ve always comforted each other
poorly. You know I want to stay, right—more command than consolation—

but it’s not going to happen. Read to me or drop it. She starts crying,
cracks a dumb joke about how I won’t miss her handwringing.
Next call, she reads: “There’s no land left for the young & ill./

If St. Aloysius were to return, he would dissolve/into a pile of ruptured
condoms by a county road—” No—I cut her off—don’t you dare.
Don’t you dare leave me on my deathbed twice.

                                / /

            Carrying me over the bar’s threshold
my partner fantasizes about my ass         as if it weren’t
                                               twin nubs of bone.
                                       As if kisses alone don’t mean fatigue.

                                            I want her anger–
                                                                        an admission that lack flickers
                                                          through her     aching, that we’ve both
                                            cracked dry with famine.

                                            Swaying           I lean
                                      against her sternum–
                                                          an offering of air.


Cassandra J. Bruner, the 2019-2020 Jay C. and Ruth Halls Poetry Fellow, earned her MFA from Eastern Washington University. A transfeminine poet and essayist, their writing has appeared in, or is forthcoming from, Black Warrior Review, Crazyhorse, Muzzle, New England Review, Ninth Letter, Third Coast, and elsewhere. Winner of the 2019 Frost Place competition, her chapbook, The Wishbone Dress, is forthcoming from Bull City Press.