In the darkness of morning, slivers of new
day silhouetting us, you promise to make me
free as a flock of ravens. In books, a bird often
carries something in its claws: a piece
of ribbon, a love letter. I am invited to release,
to fly without weight. This is my reply:
If I am alone, I am not whole.
What I want is this: Bare
fingers pulling bread from
the same loaf, a glass of wine
from a shared skin, a deep burial.
There, the ground will swallow us, together.
I let my finger slide over the book-spines.
I catch a bit of dust, rub it on my pants, study the symbols.
I stare at the menu. I recognize parts of it.
I ask if they have Eggs Benedict.
They don't, so I have my usual.
Whatever the waitress recommends.
Dear Baby my mother wrote me a month before I was born.
I recognize her curves, her jagged signature, but it's still
Sanskrit to me. I only know it says baby because
my father told me once.
An attractive man sits next to me at the coffee bar. We talk
until he realizes he is late for his appointment. He hands me
a piece of paper, asks for my name and number.
I shake my head and say sorry, no thanks.
But what I really want to say is this: Here it is, please call.
Out from the Belly of a Wolf
We are raised on the story of a little girl
with a fondness for maroon, outfitted with
a basket, nearly her own size, of candied apples,
ladyfingers, and devil's-food cake. We've heard
the variation, even: an empty-stomached,
well-meaning wolf sent to an early grave
by the rifle of a bloodthirsty hunter
who voted for Reagan in '80 and '84.
But what of the old lady in the tale,
the grandmother who was gulped down dry?
What does it feel like to be swallowed whole,
to rest in the belly of a fierce thing, even calling
that repose death—then, to spill onto the floor,
a second birth, at the knife of a strange man,
your six-year-old granddaughter watching?
Do you hold her, assure her that you're well,
or do you throw your clothes off, running
naked from the wolf-carcass, to scrub
the animal's guts from your legs and arms?
And what of your nightdress, still clinging
to the beast's limbs, giving the illusion
of breast and hip where there are none?
Best not to wear it again, lest your granddaughter
become confused. (Picture the twisted sequel:
Red finds you, mistakes you for her coarse-haired foe,
and chops you into tiny pieces.) Yes, dispose of
the gown—let it mingle with rotten apples
and spoiled leftovers under the kitchen sink.
You & I are Still Unknown
It happens the same way teething happens:
an unexplainable pang, then the surfacing
of a new thing. Or a buried thing.
Most people know to hide
a pet canary from the neighbor's cat.
Even fools know that.
It is a combination of words, the lingering
smell of a busy cafe, a pencil left on the floor
with no one to claim it. Perhaps it was owned once.
To remember you in bread
is to know the importance
of being filled; I might swallow
a wedding ring, but it doesn't learn
my body. The act of consuming
does not, by itself, tame hunger.
We drink a sweet wine to thank you
for something bitter, to remember
a public sacrifice in a place
as secret as our throats.
Heather Cadenhead lives and writes in
Nashville, Tennessee. Her poems have been featured in
Illuminations, Ruminate, Bare Root Review, The Stray Branch, Up
the Staircase, The Maynard, and other literary magazines. She
was recently the recipient of an Editorial Prize for her work in
New Plains Review. Her first chapbook, Inventory of Sleeping
Things, is forthcoming from Maverick Duck Press in August 2010.