Go on asking, then throw a shoe into the four corners
Is anything just a rhythm?
The foot’s arch
is the same drum
skin no matter what
nests between the legs.
It’s our first child who
comes into the tent
when we are bound
in sleep to cover
the smoke hole
with her closed fist.
The seamstress is rarely
as kind as we remember.
She, too, leaves houndstooth
buttons out for the weasels,
hoping they choke, wishing
their teeth off duck eggs
meant for pickling. We need
affirmation that our labors
are bigger than I saw that
thing you did. Have you not
realized that the husband
you love has two foxtails
behind his back? How dare
any of us forget how
to spoon dirt into our mouths.
Not the first time to enter tonight
Passwords to enter the washhouse
are tattooed small across elder asses
and we have to bend waists extra low
to catch the fading glyphs humping
along from sulfur springs to nickel-
plated knockers guarding squat doors.
But this is just the story you sell
when you want me on my stomach,
pressed full-bellied into cotton springs.
These are tales cast on lines thrown
far into a past you well know I cannot
resist, will instead open wider, pillow
a pyramid my hips mount, climb. They
say the youngest Greek horsemen knew
best how to ease a nervous mare onto one
longboat by walking her backward, rump
a bouquet of sweaty curling hair, flanks
already soaked through want and seawater.
When the ocean brings the gravity
Eels in the well are rarely a sign of anything
fortuitous. Still, the shock of bodies that move
regardless of tides might mean we are safe yet.
Some gods give us the picnic tables we need. These
are, of course, the lesser gods, the ones who let us
drown when we swim too long in the same waist-high
tidal pools. After reaching the right logs, calves burning
from the honor of keeping us afloat, despite pulls
toward some vague heaven our sister warned us about,
we make it to the breakfast baskets. Do you remember
lowering your eyes across such a meal? Was it the current
that carried us this far away being regal, from being anything
more than beggars? The minuscule women under the sand
push us on anyway and we eat and paddle our arms
in smaller and smaller circles and blame the gulls for our luck.
Anyway, a long time ago is here
A young Algerian pushed his hand, once, hard
as a stale cigarette, against my belly and told me
the pushing back, from within, meant
that the baby would be born hating anything
that grows in winter. The child makes up its mind
to arrive and we can do nothing. Jung wrote in circles
about circles and all we have is some canvas already
burnt in three corners. Maybe it’s true we are like ourselves
best when we are faithful. I carried an infant to avoid living
with inevitability, invisibility, what my mother called missing.
It is January now and I know what lasts longest
is some country orchard road and not this regret, not
this hopeful antennae borrowed from early summer
millipedes. I hold hard to remember what Harod promised:
a swaddle is the difference between reputation and redemption.
Kelli Allen’s work has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies in the US and internationally. Allen is the co-Founding Editor of Book of Matches literary journal. She is an award-wining poet, editor, and dancer. She is the recipient of the 2018 Magpie Award for Poetry. Her chapbook, Some Animals, won the 2016 Etchings Press Prize. Her chapbook, How We Disappear, won the 2016 Damfino Press award. Her collections include, Otherwise, Soft White Ash, ( John Gosslee Books 2012), Imagine Not Drowning, (C&R Press 2017), Banjo’s Inside Coyote (C&R Press 2019). Allen’s latest book is Leaving the Skin on the Bear, C&R Press, 2022. She currently teaches writing and literature in North Carolina.