There’s Never a Name for a Love Song

Here is my smoggy sight less a pinpoint
for heckle, heart.  The first ray that made me blink was dark,
another shocked like a socket, left marks
on my chest and thighs.  My mouth found bits charred white
for days, and when they melted, my teeth ached. 

We all have ways to find each other, but they’re easily
misplaced.  A compass would help, a line worked out by mountains,
even stars to hold a sign— but there’s none of that here. 
 I’m not the only one—
Another woman opened her mouth a morning after
and for days pulled out herbs.  Opheliatic it was,
spitting up rosemary and lavender.  Fitting she’s a chef.

Even our mothers ask nothing, instead
rub out their daughters’ forehead ruts, smooth out
the creases, begin their grandmothers’ games:
bare skin, baby powder, a rat-tail comb. 
Combs across the world hazard an ‘L’ together, know how
to gather sweetness on a back.  
And I still need someone to harp on
the nonsense, help to hang up my weep-worn towel. 
Help me rid the constant of denial, 

On another woman’s back the dusty ‘O’
is clearer, teeth scratch out the V, 
a quick E.  Powder falls on talc-bound skin to find
what’s left:  not the waiting but how it’s done.

We Have Been Too Much Pain to Save Us¹

In the odd book of fairy tales, there was a man turned into a giant dragon who didn’t know he was a giant dragon until a good look in a shallow pond.  He paced back and forth and back and forth and then began to peel one layer of dragony skin at a time, but it grew back just as quickly as he pulled it off, so with one mighty talon stabbing, skin searing pluck, he jabbed through every single layer of gritty, nubbly skin and tugged—he yanked and stretched and ripped until certain he was dead, certain nothing was left but a pool of green blood and a guise of horny skin, pulled until he ripped the spell right out from in him and he could see the rapid beating of his organs, the pulsing quick of his veins. 

That, my friends, is what’s called a good inside find.  Not so good for the Aztecs—looking for the second coming of Quetzacoatl, their bearded, white man turning out to be a definitive asshole from Granada.  We know the rest—blankets filled with small pox, slayings, raping of the Aztec women.  Their floating city pillaged and burned.  But imagine the believers—the messiah’s returning!  Our savior back at last!  So, no matter the poxy, rat-holed blankets for gold, no matter the semened breath of their women, for they had the delicate, bearded face again, face with a pale vein fluttering through his eyelid.  And the smart ones were massacred first—climbing into the big Spanish ships to investigate—always the ones who will risk ripping the skin.

But my reoccurring dream as a child was this:  hide and go seek in the neighborhood—and when no one comes to seek me, I seek them—find my father with two men, selling our car in front.  Daddy, I always say, Daddy what are you doing?  And I notice, but then it’s too late, my father is not my father for a tiny string runs down his back, and I tug and tug, his grip gets firmer and the laughter swirls around like smoke, and when I finally pull his head off, skin sucking to skin like a sunburn—he is one of the bad men, a robber, and we are all gone. 
¹"English as She is Spoke" Jose da Fonseca and Pedro Carolino, Edited by  Paul Collins

Floridian Denial

A woman in swamp grass wanted to be found
so she wasn’t.  No one came near enough to catch her,
didn’t even find a cattail to write home about.  But the lake nearby
was spring fed in three places, and concurrent with local information,
gators liked springs.  Something about the PH—they need it more
acidic.  More basic?  When it was basic, it slipped,
fingers flew across one another like bandits.  Besides dying
leaves and skiers, the lake hosted Northern girls on vacation,
they swam for an unfamiliarity with humidity or a cooler
of beer.  Transplants, these girls, they dunked underwater in unison, wished
they were each Tallahassee Lassie, or at least what must have run
through that wicked girl’s veins. 

Even naps under plantation fans, even moss
that lived up to its Spanish fame.  Even the boy who tasted
like bark with a name around for the centuries, like men who’d laid
down dirt, still hot, sticky, rubbed together after months
of work.  Out back, a palm tree.  Over there, a live oak.  Underfoot—
months of fertilizer and Home Depot trips.  On a porch an outdoor
oven circa Arawak Indians, a pitcher of drinks.

The Northern Girl with the peeling nose reached out, a tree branch
gave way as she pulled the moss down and tangled
her fingers like Chinese fingercuffs.  (sigh)  It was straw, not silk
(sigh) and the color was dead.  Another Florida myth
gone awry, she spritzed her little face, another freckle. 

The boy who tasted like bark liked boats and dogs
and working by himself.  He built a house with his hands, pulled
up the walls for hours.  He invited the Northern girls
but didn’t know what to do with them, they talked and glistened
between their moony breasts.  They rubbed his arms and tangled their fingers
in his muscles.  They needed shade and lemonade
and made his dog pee.  That dog used to fit inside
a box, and when he watched the lake glow late,
she’d clean out his beer cups.  

The Northern girls only needed a trip to the airport, seltzer water,
a glimpse of a swamp or the gasses at least.  Their talk was too fast and their shoes
too clacky, and when they drank, their heads hurt the worst. 
The Northern girls wanted kisses before they left, one in the trees
with hands on cheeks and hair pulling, a few buttons
lost in the lawn.  Those might have been requested by Stella
after all, they read Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. 


From Her Sleep

She edges upwards with gold rings, through airplanes
and helicopters.  Through small boys playing on
skyward masses, awaiting signals for rain.
She’d like to take her subsistence back to a currency, what she pays
for each morning, eyes open with fingers still numb. 
Who has the hold today with this sleep elixir?  Each morning
she craves something stronger, a re-birth of the evening’s cool,
oozing the window shades down.

Her time will be a time
(plus a watery future) caused by dreams, netting her sleep
with a handcuff or shadow.  She awaits
some real arrivals: not just sandy linens.  A washing machine. 
Rug-matted hair.  The disposable razor laid to rust. 
Another lost definition of use.  She tries to seal
these packages back up, gold rings, that pouring water
where we begin to start.  



Rankle.  She waits, fat turkey snippets creak
between chopsticks and teeth.  Leathery tough
squeaks out an old bird’s history.  She thinks of pellets
and pecking, heads bobbing for a swallow
around slaughter time—and their wings flap
when throats are cut, unfurling ribbons,
feathers beat another pulse. 

She tongues her turkey, chokes, hoots
through more tears. This particular haunting
is new, except for the knowing.  The poultry’s salvaged
from the freezer back, ice hunks torn off for a wok
and soy.  And that will be her dinner. Or hers?  Or here’s 
a tidbit: when sliced open, turkey bellies warm hands,
deblue our human
froze, but intestine curls
must be carefully dumped to make a familiar carcass.


elizabeth horner's  has work forthcoming in Small Spiral Notebook.  Armed with an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College, Ms. Horner teaches and writes in Los Angeles.