Day 25, Poet 25: Kristy Bowen
from How to Write a Love Poem in a Time of War
Say you begin with midsummer. The haze of late June and dusk. The hush of birds lingering at the treetops above asphalt. How I am trying to be poetic, but then, isn’t all love a kind of elegy to something about to happen. The moment before or after the falling. Which is to say not precisely falling, but sinking slowly through water at an agreeable rate. Or stepping off a train platform and into a swarm of bees. Not precisely dangerous, but still fraught with danger. Not precisely desirous, but rattling with desire.
In the months after the election, no one can get comfortable in their skin. This wolfish thing inside me scratches at the door each night and howls. Growls at cab drivers and racist cousins in Oklahoma. Makes friends with any window I can climb out of. Anything that can get its hooks into my hair. When I was a kid, I kept getting tangled in the blackberry bush in the yard, scratches on my thighs, my arms, my hemline reddening with juice. Even my fingers sticky for full-on fever, that twinning under some July moon. I’d love to say I don’t hate men, but sometimes it’s hard. Each one before you, grooves in the same record—the ones with ex-wives and el caminos and whiskey in their voices. I’d love to say I loved them, but really, I was game for anything that could swallow me whole in one bite.
In April, in New Orleans at the Museum of Death, the only thing that disturbed me was the smell of it—death, that is. As if by association all those things carried a scent—letters from serial killers. faded clippings of autoerotic suffocations. Embalming tables and funeral dolls. The crime scene photo of Nicole Brown Simpson with her head come near clean off in a California courtyard. That sort of thing is as common as breathing, as common as the lingering smell of sickness and trash on Bourbon Street. Where a man I did not know shoved his face between my breasts and I was so startled I did not move. I and my sister barely blink at the film clip of the woman outside Chicago obliterated to a smear of red by a speeding train. The clip in judgement that proves fatal. The near miss that finally hits its mark. In the theatre, at the back of the storefront, we watch things die over and over on a loop, while Bourbon Street sweats neon and rots slowly.
Another summer and the bees have gotten unruly, swarming what they can—trash cans and train cars. Light posts in the middle of downtown. It’s the charm of the inexplicable, tiny wings glinting in the sun. How 20,000 of them in the UK followed a car where their queen was trapped for miles. That same summer, across the country, a rapist goes free. The girl still rolling over in the dirt behind a dumpster, pine needles in her hair and shoved rough inside her. It’s the same summer I am working out the problem of us like a knot. Another improbable, inexplicable thing. I’ve heard bees will work tirelessly to repair a damaged hive. Mend the seams between the wrecked and new until they are indecipherable. How they will, if prompted, repair other broken things—figurines, ice skates, Victorian doll houses. I want to think this is possible. To remake everything new eventually. The girl behind the dumpster covered in honey and rebuilding cell by cell. How each night, I am remaking something with the thrum of a hundred thousand wings.
Say you begin with a listing of every scar. Every broken bone. What the body knows as trauma or memory. Every love leaves a trace on the skeletal system, sometimes even a tiny stress fracture. As bodies, we move through the world occasionally bumping into things that damage us. When I was 8, I broke my left ring finger slamming it in the back door. My abdomen bears a scar from a teakettle incident. My forearm, the perfect triangle of the top of an iron. This is the way I move through the world. Occasionally bumping into the edges of bartending engineers and secretly married ad salesmen. Running into walls and tripping up stairs. I do not know how to write about love without a little bit of pain. The pure panic of its return. I only once said to a man that I loved him, and a decade later, it makes the bones of my throat ache.
I am really bad at telling jokes. Mixing up punchlines and losing my train of thought. Loosening my voewls and mucking up the perfect machine. I write poems called "How to Care for Your Princess Monster" and "How to Be an
Emotional Ventroloquist" but I worry that while I'm pointing
at my ribs, everyone is looking at my feet. Still I dream a lot about being trapped inside an enormous wedding cake—a claustrophobic swirl of sugar and lace. House fires and
horses jumping from cliffs are easy, but where is the omen in so much sweetness? What else is there to do when the man comes looking for me with a bloodied shoe and a bottle of bourbon? Except hide inside the body of a huge, feather-bellied swan? I broke my ring finger once and it was all over for me. Understand that I am only looking for the sharpest item in the root to cut the girl from the swan that is the cake that is the swan.
Previously published by dancing girl press.
A writer and book artist working in both text and image, Kristy Bowen is the author of a number of chapbook, zine, and artist book projects, as well as six full-length collections of poetry/prose/hybrid work, including the recent SALVAGE (Black Lawrence Press, 2016) and MAJOR CHARACTERS IN MINOR FILMS (Sundress Publications, 2015). Her work has appeared extensively online and in print, including recent appearances in Paper Darts, Hobart, and interrupture. She lives in Chicago, where she runs dancing girl press & studio and spends much of her time writing, making papery things, and editing a chapbook series devoted to women authors.
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