it can mean on the way out. telling myself this. the folk recitation that becomes oral hysteria, rosary ground down by fingertips hard as teeth. scrambling to make sense of the lightbulb's dumb howl, the skin's stubborn silence, which even given a razored mouth, can only drool. a tangled necklace, too skinny to be smoothed, can't explain it. my muscles' lurching dragonflies don't either. i'm an infant; i can't hold up my head, but if rocked to sleep, will ruin. hospital sheets thick as bricks. stethoscope out of tune. the tether should be stronger, made of diamonds, but is a string of paper cups. as he said, (but with revision): i thrash, am flayed. oh, eyes full of.
COULD BE GOOD
We look up to redwood branches sizzling into pythons. The snapping mouths of turtles scissor through tar in the road; crosswalks and yield signs fly from their continental backs. A hippo stamps by, huge as Neptune. You smile, say: This could be good for us. I yank at your arm, but you've already sprinted over. I cry your name, but you're glued to the underside of a giant hoof.
You fuck me hard against a bookcase, spine on spines. When we finish, you lean down and lick the whites of my eyes, say: Tastes good. Like ginger.
We hate each other. Us kids scribble curse words in sharpie on Mom's dining table. She spars, tells us we were all mistakes. But when the hurricane comes, we grasp together, desperately. The nail heads are leaving behind their wooden husks, but we're calm. We only panic when things go well.
not to be confused with verbatim, though both start with an engine's rev and end in a pink spill the same shade as amoxicillin, good for ear infections. forbidden; prohibited. my hand over your heart, you eating hearts of palm in a salad, my palm against your hard chest in mock struggle. the trunk of your torso, the chlorophyll, which sounds like color-filled for a reason. i am bound – birds of paradise in plastic wedding gowns, the flush of pheasants that is called a bouquet. me and my word games. your ten-page proofs, drafting pencils mapping out my dreams' topography. a blueprint, your prints dipped in my ink, and in the middle of that word, a bow, not the kind you take for applause, but the tautening just before an arrow flies for its target.
ONE BOURBON, ONE SCOTCH, AND ONE BEER
The need for sleep is a cinder
ratcheting up your throat. There's nothing sweet
or opaque for the eye to slip through.
There are no Tree Stars. If you dream,
there's a half-eaten arm, a bone that tastes
like woodsmoke, skin bubbled like paper
over too much paste. There are gaps in your alphabet.
You can only scrabble: Wrung.
If you stay awake, there are her rubber legs,
kneecaps larger than her head, a nose too thin
for tightrope. There's his back, the oil and hormones.
There are no wind chimes. There are no doilies
soaked in cedar water. You heave, and screws
the color of brown glass swim up from the bowl.
You thread a necklace of kidney stones,
wear it as a bracelet, ten wraps around the wrist,
each smoky gem like a valve singing.
There is your pollen-yellow heart,
and the digital numbers of the clock
that jump when you crush the ice in your mouth.
apocryphaltext Vol. 3
Katie Quarles was the recent recipient of the Ina Coolbrith Memorial Prize in poetry. Her work has appeared in The King's English and will appear in the upcoming Plugged In issue of Cahoots Magazine and in Cause & Effect. She is currently finishing her degree in literature at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
4 poems katie quarles