Saturday, November 21, 2015

November 21 -- Hollie Hardy

In the  Mouth of the Dead:  A Metaphor for Tenderness
by Hollie Hardy

Cooing softly to win its trust
he strokes the coarse fur to calm the lamb
a gentle soul, his favorite of the flock

Yesterday his nieces had come to visit
to feed the sheep through the fence
lettuce and sweaty fistfuls of grain 
giggling at the snuffle of furry lips and dry tongue
tickling their tiny hands

The older child put an arm around her little sister
to reassure her that the lamb was safe
brown eyes
big and round
shiny with excitement
she wanted to touch this earthly cloud
but she was nervous of the mouth,
the teeth, the eyes

Like this,
her sister offered a flat palm to the hopeful creature
What’s his name, asked the girl whose name was Elle
I don’t know, said her sister, maybe he doesn’t have a name
But everyone deserves a name! Elle insisted
Let’s call him Snowflake

They were too young to understand
sacrifice or suffering
the way animals carry our burdens
in the warm soft of their innocence
too young to know death or pain
the woes of childhood thus limited to skinned knees
momentary desires disappointed by bedtimes
or the denial of ice cream
the grave injustice of being forced
to share with one’s sister
Soon enough life would betray them
a dog would die or a father would stop coming home
mother would lose her job in town and spend long
nights smoking on the front porch, crying into a bottle,
ignoring smeared mascara and broken fingernails
perhaps a fire in the kitchen

But for now, the sun was shining
before the whole nasty affair,
before the back-stabbing, and then the slaughter
before the knife slipped under the skin to slice away the pelt
as the tortured lamb screamed in terror at the white-hot shrieking pain

Without sin, this sacrifice would be unnecessary
Without god, this solitary tear, this stone
A metaphor for tenderness

Now Uncle leads Snowflake to the wooden tub
to be lathered and scrubbed clean
palm print of a devoted killer
man holds the lamb in his arms
like a beloved pet, or a favorite child  

This is the kind of man who can stare endlessly into a grey sea
a man of ritual, a reader
he works in his garden, studies the Torah
enjoys the simple things
fresh bread with butter and salt
the smell of burning wood
orange and yellow flowers
growing wild along the roadside, where he takes his evening walks
like any man, he finds comfort in dailyness
and the power of his hands

Windows open like a heart
night air touches his naked body as he pours the tea
he washes his hands slowly, preparing
he knows that this is necessary

They are together now
in the small spare room
with its wooden walls
the light is on because this is a love story
no music, just the sound of the night
then the screaming haunted eyes
the thrashing heartbeat
hot breath of the lamb

The man is transfixed
in this moment the outline of teeth seems to matter more than anything
he is focused
he does not notice the empty sound of the rain
which begins softly outside, then grows stronger

Until wet winds roar and bludgeon the night
a ferocious wrath, a beast stalking closer
the storm blows wild through the cabin
like a ghost swallowing a lighthouse

There is blood on the light switch
blood running down the walls
blood pooling on the snow-white fur
aching on the floorboards
rivering along the cracks
never to be clean again

Lightning dances in the near distance
scent of sulfur
damp earth hums humid in yellow air
percussion slows
as the screaming subsides
a candle flickers and dies
the deed is done

The man whispers tenderly into the mouth 
of the dead, the sacrifice
this is his punishment,
the price for what he has done

Alone in the shattering stillness
with the blood, the body, and god
he finds something sensual
in the aftermath of atonement
the intimacy of the room
adrenalin ebbs and eases
he waits for the feeling to fade
soon the sacrifice will erase the sin
as it always has before

~Hollie Hardy

HOLLIE HARDY is the author of How to Take a Bullet, And Other Survival Poems (Punk Hostage Press, 2014) She teaches writing classes at the SF Creative Writing Institute, San Francisco State University, and Berkeley City College. She co-hosts Saturday Night Special, An East Bay Open Mic, curates Litquake’s Flight of Poets, and is a founder and core producer of Oakland’s Beast Crawl Literary Festival.

No comments:

Post a Comment