Runner-up in the 2019 Ada Limón Autumn Poetry Contest
There are no swans here, just corn / and potatoes pushing past small- / town dirt. I want to be done / with want, so I tell my feet / to stalk the wheat
Poetry by L. Renée
There are no swans here, just corn
and potatoes pushing past small-
town dirt. I want to be done
with want, so I tell my feet
to stalk the wheat swaying
at the edge of a field
past the silos and scythes,
past the scabbed scaffolding
of the barn’s ash skeleton
where Old Man Blue hung
himself, after rows of turnips
refused to green. Sometimes
a person can have their fill of loneliness.
Desire is a tick that hides
on my haunches until
the bite pulses its red
district light, needling
my already silly goose-
pimpled flesh, need swelling
like interminable hurricane water.
When I float inside night’s shade
I try not to think of the wreath
of flies that lined his neck, how
breath left with a tawdry grunt,
but the stench of death stayed
salty in my mouth and I liked it.
Can blood cover shame?
The old man wouldn’t want his good
church friends to find him
swaying like that from the rafters,
so I cut the rope, watched
the body land like some beached star,
five-pointed with arms and legs spread,
the head bled a halo in perfect circle.
I let the wolf of me spread out
and howl full-throated at the pearl
in ink clouds, the incessant
incandescence, my back licked
by air’s black thicket.
I shouldn’t say what happened next,
how a thousand centipedes
squirmed beneath my skin, how tufts
of fur emerged from my pores,
how I bristled like a corn husk crushed
under a boot. I shouldn’t say my teeth
knew exactly what to do with their new
pointy tips, how top incisors tore
into his flesh as any country
girl would a waxy plum, careful
not to open the jaw too wide and waste
the tart juice jolt a tongue longs for.
It is easy to suck clean the marrow.
From any man’s flimsy bones, gristle
ultimately gives, mixes saliva into
a powdery broth, some succor to sweeten
sorrow’s bitter crop. I can’t tell you
why the moon reminds me of empty seats,
the rooms wiped clean of all who
have left us. I can’t tell you why I can’t let
my dead rest, why I’ve always savored
their carcasses. I have never been whole,
so there was room.
Note: End line taken from Vievee Francis’ “A Flight of Swiftlets Made Their Way In.”
L. Renée is a poet from Columbus, Ohio. She is a second-year MFA candidate at Indiana University, where she serves as the Nonfiction Editor of the Indiana Review and as Associate Director of the Indiana University Writers’ Conference. Her work is published in Tin House Online. She has received scholarship support from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Minnesota Northwoods Writers Conference, Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing and Green Mountain Writers Conference. She believes in black joy and reflects some of it @lreneepoems on Instagram.