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
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
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
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.