Three Poems by Andrea Blythe and Laura Madeline Wiseman
Pouring the Pennyroyal
Before this, we chased the striped cat, followed the fence to find
the chink sheared by someone’s wire clippers, slid down hills
festooned by wild thatches of overgrowth and flowers. After this,
she lived for seven years with a tall man who had partial control
over his face, one that quivered and drooped, as if what he sought
to say fought against the more cultivated side, the one careful
with words, calculating effect before offering sound. We always
imagined him white-masked and black-caped, swirling in a blur
through corridors, expandable police baton like a wand in hand,
ushering a darkness in his wake, a shroud he dragged. This
path, he told her, follow. One of us, the eldest, did, drugged
and seduced by this phantom specter, the one who said, I will take
care of you. Though we heard, I will teach you to care only for me.
During this, she said, Never sit too close to the stage, never spoil
the illusion — whispers made into the phone, green-tinted messages
about mists, singing men, the lights of the half-seen standing
in the dark wings between acts. Before this, we were girls,
cheshires of shifting stripes teasing, tattooing great tails
mid-hunt below the feeders of birds. Before this, we were Alice
tumbling to where hats were laced with mercury and dresses
were coated in arsenic green. Before this, we were sopranos
chased by burnt men in flapping capes, our notes and songs
distorted by the full chorus of those not alive, but partial.
We would have leapt anywhere, like cats, like girls, into the pit
of glinting brass tubas and silver flutes, polished red violins
and syncopated drums amid the folding chairs and music stands.
After this, when she arrived on our girlhood porch, papers in hand,
she said, I’m late. We all answered, You’re never too late for tea.
Fish Bone Wishes
I. The Fish
Golden eyes, golden
scales, ten-foot long, this lake fish
speaks to friend a girl.
comforts this dirt and rags girl,
flashes shining scales.
II. The Mother
Mother keeps the girl
to scrub, clean, and sew. She works
and keeps to herself.
Mother’s a creature
of watchful eyes, jealous tongue,
but harmless, fat, old.
What happiness should
a spoiled girl swallow? A fish
is better roasted.
III. The Girl
At mother’s bidding,
I dress in tattered rags, hook
dinner from the lake.
Mother and I eat
the golden fish, feast on eyes
and tail, bone white flesh.
We season the rice,
drink cups of tea, bow in thanks
for stepsister’s find.
Bitter the tears of
which I have always drunk deep,
choking on false hope.
Pale grandfather ghost
murmurs like wind and I speak
soft to slender bones.
He tells me to bury
the fish bones in pots. I dig holes
at my bed corners.
He tells me to speak
my needs to the bones, as if
the dead grant wishes.
I am clothed in silk,
sea-green and fisher feathers,
wear slippers of gold.
Festival bound, I
walk the long road by slippered
foot, seeking the light.
New Year Festival—
incense, glowing lanterns, and
sweet pastry offerings.
False princess, I am
admired by handsome young men
until I must flee.
Slip of a slipper
and my foot is bare, bleeding
on the sharp road home.
Home, where I weep, long
for glinting gild of fish scales,
ache for spirit touch.
I clutch fragile bones,
let them prick my fingers, wish
spirit into life.
Left behind, a shoe
of gold learns to travel,
to journey the lands.
In all peoples’ hands
the slipper bows before a
lonely island king.
Slipper in his palm,
he searches, lets maidens try
its shrinking gold size.
No fragile foot slipped
within the empty slipper
to the king’s lament.
The bones, eyelash thin,
tremble in their hidden place,
sonorous and wane.
Cento of the Golden Key
Lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind, she must
transform his hands so they will be willing to twist
those shifting landscapes, the tower, the lagoon.
She sleeps under olive trees, praying for bloody bondage.
Who wouldn’t want to save her, as she arches,
curves, twines her body about the bedposts. I’ve watched you rise.
O place of lunacy, wasted treasures, squandered
heart. Squeeze it to a pulp until it becomes as cold as glass and
my first. You might ask why. Here’s why. Poetry.
The wolf, I knew, had hair the color of moons. In the pantheon
of witches and saviors, she hangs in his thoughts,
a face just drawn back from sight, a tangle,
all white hair and ribbons. Everything is about containment,
is a secret we close in a dark compartment.
Andrea Blythe and Laura Madeline Wiseman’s collaborative poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Devilfish Review, Quail Bell Magazine, Faerie Magazine, The Drowning Gull, Yellow Chair Review, Strange Horizons, Rose Red Review, Silver Blade, and the anthologies The World Retold (The Writers’ Guild of Iowa State University, 2016), Red Sky: poetry on the global epidemic of violence against women (Sable Books, 2016), Nasty Women Poets: An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse (Lost Horse Press, 2017), and They Said: A Multi-Genre Anthology of Contemporary Collaborative Writing (Black Lawrence Press, 2018). Their collaborative chapbook Every Girl Becomes the Wolf is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. Learn more at www.andreablythe.com and www.lauramadelinewiseman.com.