ISABEL DUARTE-GRAY

 

 

THE SHEW ASH

 

Took me time to learn you can’t heal a body.

Use the leaves to know a thing

and knowing cuts a pattern

for my skin to meet the junegrass in. 

I was told a shrew ash made a cure would seep

down into water feed the ants the flickers eat

and hawks will eat the flickers in the sky a midwife

passing all our faces with her copper feather. I bore us 

a hole into a tree

and plugged alive a field mouse

offered it the tree so it would live the way a tree

can pry into the worlds beneath the world.

Can’t say it did much reckoning

for what reach I give it.

I cut wands of ash for years for all my scrapes

its twigs not once did stop a hiccup. 

 

There ain’t much to fix a man is broke

without a ache inside his back a seventh son

will walk out. No time to see it

time to watch the whiskey throw its current from the day

trout lilies crop up by the window

to the day you’re lucky to be seeing pews

as full as punishments in school. 

I was not so lucky and was luckier than most.

It says in Deuteronomy no woman is to 

wear the breech of men to work 

so all my work I do as irises in spring

in petal after stem as strong as man’s

long shinbones weathering a winter that would kill

a stalk of corn. I change my color with 

what wings I meet. 

 

Some don’t learn the same. 

Last man I sipped from underneath the nose

of all them neighbor girls was caught and taught his 

wife the gift of screws. She caught wind he was running

more than liquor throwed 

his shirts the blue the mulberry carp-colored cotton

down my chicken coop stomped them up in shit 

like it was consequence for how he rang our necks at night. 

And all her little nieces clapped I hoped 

they more than watched but rubbed the line

her march had cut in both our mouths.

Some of us don’t know how not to be the catkin

made to fatten in a single feeling—

poplars grown to well a slow 

and sweetened tear. Some Rednour husband 

stabbed his wife at supper runned her with the fork she served

baked apples with. She stayed as still 

as still and stood a thing to live inside 

for him to hide his hidden holes. And all

that poured from her was balm the hot red 

of a rosin stone downstream it rolled

it scalded all the Cumberland                                

in words she knew she could not say.

 

 

TENNESSEE VALLEY AUTHORITY

 

The corpse boat split the lilies

in a black and heaving ribbon

in a May Queen’s final day on earth.

This lake ain’t lake the way a god

shapes lakes with claws of ice. 

A living man remembers when this hole

was not a place of many waters but

a city drowned in just a day.

Underneath the lilies can’t you see

the roofs where finches threw a nest

for sowing panic grass and babies

born below them and the beds of dark fire

smoked a leaf in season it was

deep beneath this water. 

There was brides made in this place

where herons sweep at corners. 

Mudcats breed here now their knowing whiskers

rooted home the only thing to root here

in these rooms we cannot save.

 

Isabel Duarte-Gray is a PhD candidate in English at Harvard University.

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