We have seen the enemy—she on the tip
of her pencil when she scratched her head,
I, in the school nurse’s office. Now, in a sunlit
corner of the kitchen, we spread
the poison through her hair. I won’t tell her
of the egg sacs, fat with young, stuck fast
to the strands, the gray nits swarming
in the down behind her ears where flesh is softest.
Like an executioner I lay the dead out
side by side on the counter tiles. She eyes my
little morgue. She is having second thoughts:
what about their mommies? Hush, I say.
At her temples the fine veins pattern in the sun.
She will be host to nothing, to no one.
Notes from a Salt Flat Prisoner
On this island, love, there is nothing but black
and white—the sea’s flat back that keeps us,
bleak shards of coral honed sharp as knives
by tireless wavelets. And the salt—vast,
blinding pans for us to rake. It galls
our wrists and shins like manacles.
Nothing grows here but these crystals. Even
the dark seaweed swirling in the inlets
rises on spindly legs as if to swim
away. Small black lizards whisper
names of home against the dry rocks
and we boil them for it. We are sick
of fish. All day the sun’s blanched eye
seeks us, and not one rock
big enough to hide under. I am changed
by this place—like Lot’s wife
I look back, reconfigure
the purple shadows in the struts of your
ribs, your tongue in my mouth like pure fire.
Here there is no holy water or sin.
Each night we bathe ourselves in brine,
lie under a black collar of sky, the spume
of white salt stars, the salt white moon,
the sting of crystals blooming on our skin.
What is it the crows know this first real day of fall
when the sky's gone vacuous and the air thins?
They bark on the lawn in their raucous code,
plumage blue-black smoke of a city
smoldering. Already they have performed
their daily harassment of the owl,
old hunchback in his snag in the backyard oak,
have communicated the exact coordinates
of the buff-colored cat and patrolled
the bedraggled roses where our best dogs
are buried. They wing in from Indian mounds
down in the woods, the back pasture
where slaves’ headstones list in the fescue.
Last week I found a black widow fisted
and gleaming in the sandbox—scarlet hourglass
against black carapace—and this morning
over the bubbling of oatmeal, the low drone
of war on the television set, I felt it again:
that pang that comes with the changing
leaves, frail unease as the world tilts again
into winter—some forgotten drumming
in the marrow that should have me filling
the woodpile and rasping the axe.
The crows call in threes:
Watch, watch, watch. Shadows of wings,
they say, and gather the seeds.
Count the children again.