READ LOCAL First represents Utah’s most comprehensive collection of celebrated and promising writers of fiction, poetry, literary nonfiction, and memoir. This month we bring you four poems by Kim Welliver. In 2018, Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum awarded her poem, “Thriving,” First Place in the Utah Original Writing Competition.
Welliver has lived in Indiana and California. Currently, she works and resides in Utah. Her poems have appeared in numerous publications, including Cold Creek Review, Mid-American Review, Eyedrum Periodically, Thief, Palette, Duende, The Healing Muse, and several anthologies.
Utterly, This Terrible Red
troubles your dreams, rises
like bruised flesh. Retrace your steps
through the wood—toadstools like eyelids,
foxes whelping to a chainstitch
of thrush-song—find the place of thick-bodied
oaks. Remnants of your scarlet cloak showing
through black loam and the bones of trees:
the rags of a corpse, frost-heaved.
Half shadow. Half smoke. He follows
Sliver of girlhood, your bible
a bestiary bound in fur. Teeth. Fearless
in your scarlet cape and boot-tucked pantry knife
you set out for the Conjure-woman’s cottage.
You’d father’s tuppance, mother’s ruddy
jam and honey. Tender for a charm
to keep crows from the fresh-set field
of rape. Fever from the sow. Always
her house muzzled in tree-dusk and wings.
Eyes lantern the undergrowth.
Always you, half-spooked by her strange runes
and rootwork. The low ceilinged room blazing
its cauldron-heat. But here is her rocker overturned.
Her yarb bowls shattered. Her body
dappled in gore. And here
the rough beast of need. Your petticoat slid
to the floor. Fury spent its red mouth at your breast.
You awoke to an empty bed. Tangled
in damp linens—stained.
The dark blurs. A ravening against the sweetness of flowers.
Clutching the truth, its thrall and sting,
you crafted your story as you ran home. The moon
turned its eye, pulled its spotless skirts
across field and farmland. Dumb sheep.
Sleeping hounds. Returning to this place
Its tick and whisper of leaves and limb,
the dim animal communion of heat,
of soft dying things. Your own tender wounds.
Your mouth unbeautied,
again and again crying wolf.
The Shape Beneath the Stone
St Joseph Cemetery,
Baby Girl Bigelow
Flickered yellow between dark growth pressed into greening and fading dearth. Here, in this populous city of bone, I am unparented. Folded into, and under, and onto. And nameless. Womb music’s given over to murmuration: distant train rumble, lone whistle. The adumbration of winter cardinal, spring finches, pulling seedy heads from bluestem. And the shhhussshhh of linden leaves. No mothered lullaby. This susurration. My seeing is twofold: hazed, and panoptic. Underside of stone, dim glazed, wormy. Now incomplete, I am pleated. Birdwing-fold. Iliac glimmer through organza, my small sleep. Stone’s inscription should circumscribe me, (circum-malediction) timbered below stony edifice. I no longer am. No peachskin breast silked cheek, milksuckle. Such stillness. This stone. My stone. My briefness. Thimbled. Shoeboxed into soil and sod. Years wheel overhead. Grayfaced sky low-bent; a kind of mothering. Groundskeeper rides his Deere. Concentrics, repetitions, angles, lines. My story recast in vegetation. Infant greens cut down. I shoulder into cradled coldness, a kind of forgetting. Crows sort the sky. Blackwing. Shadow. Isolation’s bluing vertices. What is only inferred now. Interred. Beneath this stone. I am forgetting. My name.
A Suddenness of Eyes
Do you recall
the bouquet of peonies we strung
in the west facing window that June
and how the drying petals,
plummy as the crust on the port’s cork, curled
and puckered? Two weeks later
our floor littered with their dying crimson. Like smears
in a crime scene photo. Static death.
wildflower seeds grow in unsightly snarls–weedy
cacophony rather than a planned tumble
of bright color.
The nine month wait–
damp bowl of the pelvis opening, at last,
to shocking deformity. The doctor mapped it:
gene mutation; chromosome deletion.
Nurses, in a calmness ofpink, offering tepid
thimblefuls of water
refused to meet our gaze.
I needed to believe
that if faced with a commonplace tragedy (as mundane as the five-
legged calf at the county fair,) I would pull it
to my breast,suckleit
on my body’s warmth; my thin sweet milk.
I didn’t anticipate… I didn’t anticipate…
there the ripened child:
the alien hand; a suddenness of eyes.
I become the mirror, draped. The clock
stopped with black crepe. I wrap grief in tissue, tuck
it into a drawer behind A Flower Book of Baby Names,
and my apple-pip rosary.
Remember how those windowed flowers
strained the light through their small bones.
until it fractured on the floor.
I cup loss to my cheek–
a baby’s clipped curl
into a heart-shaped pocket.
A Carpentry of Angels
From the darkness we conjure them,
from the brain’s labial meat, the heart’s
pure disease; how assiduously
we tailor them. Not cup or wolf or star
(though any of these just as practicable, just as adequate entire)
The turn of jaw, line of throat, clavicle sweep, ours.
We burnish our kettled reflection in haloes, in wings.
Beings we fashion so like our better selves,
so glowingly white as to be nacred. Sacred and
yet so approachable. Our own splendid
doppelgangers risen from sawhorse and shavings
pinned with feather spine and covert, arrayed in
buttermilk and oyster. We repeat the mantra
of revival tents and pew, of gothic
windows pouring their vitreous shine over our heads,
silver-stain straining haloes to starburst, we nail
them, beggared of sublimity, to glass and canvas. Steep
their limbs in drapereried light. Tethered
to our shoulders we task them with gathering
lost keys and cats. Safe travels.
Encumber their lean frames with a mundanity of lottery
winnings, parking spaces, winning teams.
Truly nothing of the air about them, despite
their feathery composite. They follow us,
baffled. Obedient as cowed dogs, insubstantial
as swamp fire bobbing behind us.
Our woes, fears, greed, despairs tucked into them
As though they were pockets, or coat racks.
Between toothbrush and coffee, we bow our heads,
muttering bless us, bless us, bless us.
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