A woman once pulled up her shirt: to show me her still-muddy linea nigra: though a child had already rivered out: before baptism’s coy, “hey, let me bend your stiff body back into the pool”: I slipped into the choir loft: I stuck a toe into spider-webs under the back pew: what swallowed whole means: yet, I am still down here, my reflection in holy water: or holy in water: a red-robed woman calling me: this apocalypse’s strange angel: when what I want is new words for all the old things: why can’t I wake back in my bed two decades ago: this body clean and pressed as my father’s handkerchiefs: hips flat as a grave marker: I didn’t expect to survive: I miss the way the rain washed through my hair then: candles-just-blown-out, chrism, leaves flattened between pages: I miss my first child nestled in my pelvis: a girl holding her grandmother’s dull knife to her wrist: wondering if she wants the enormity that comes after: I miss the pelvis empty before there was ever a child: the monks pounding bones to a pulp to fashion a new creature that can fly: as the egg unlatches from the uterine wall: this is the space where I live: entangled in: miscarriage: which was really was called sacrifice, amen: because I need to unlearn what love is: I carry a broken body: that woman, no longer pregnant touched: my waist, no longer thin: something sparking between her fingers: this is your annunciation: birth your tongue: watch as it spreads your teeth: this shimmering unlatch.
Across the ravine a wolf opens its mouth: the fringe of his teeth’s gleam is the row of lit candles in front of Our Lady the Morning Star, her eyes calm among the snows. Veiled women kneel and incant, O, ourcausa salutis, lead us and our children away from the witch’s city. Lead us in circles. Lead us across the ocean in glass ships. Let us float as lace. Lead us, never sinking. Seven holes in your heart. Lead us to lay our heads next to our babies’ beds. Lead us, iced saints. Lead us to an ancient bath that will heal our calloused feet. Lead us across a suspension bridge. Lead us, leaving behind the cooking pot. Lead the ones among us who write poetry on our thighs. Lead us who dream of being beautiful women with Armageddon-red hair. Lead the ones among us who dream of not waking. This candle lit in the wolf’s throat, as he opens his mouth:
Lead me into his belly. Lay me next to cypress and stone.
Lay me down, console me and then lead me to the tree where my body will burn, where the bone gleam howls for miles, my hair a halo leading the way to a house of faithless women: their hands full of seeds. Listen.
(1) to open your legs as gates, undefending the castle as the rocking horse rolls in, filled with millions of burning men; (2) to cover the mirror with a dark cloth, then searching for your face; (3) to unmake, to deform the clay, to turn the wheel counterclockwise, to throw the lump into the bucket of water; (3) to draw a woman’s figure, add a uterus pushing out the belly, tiny hands searching her ribs, then erase her mouth; (4) microchimerism: meaning the child’s cells roam your body after he’s been expelled, a cell from his toenail between your brain’s minute firings, as the real child hangs around your waist, or the child’s ghost reaches for your hand; (5) to sweep the hearth clean of all dust and then say in the silence, I’m here, but a bird has plucked your voice out; (6) when your mother says you’re made of sugar, light and roses, when she says all these things made you a girl, when she says smile; (7) when your feet are in the stirrups and you push down, and you can’t feel the small body sliding out, when you can’t feel how this child’s head opened up your body, but you can’t not feel the crying as it slices your spine; (8) when you hold your aunt’s ash, a sliver of bone glinting, when you pocket it instead of throwing her to the river.
Nicole Rollender’s work has appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Best New Poets, The Journal, West Branch and others. Louder Than Everything You Love is her first full-length poetry collection (ELJ Publications). Her poetry chapbooks are Arrangement of Desire, Absence of Stars, Bone of My Bone, and Ghost Tongue (Porkbelly Press, 2016). Find more work on her website. She tweets at @NRollender_ASI.