These Apparent Prodigies

By on Sep 12, 2011 in Poetry

These Apparent Prodigies graphic

You can hear everything
from my porch — gibbons railing
                                                        and teething through visitor spines,
                                                        a lone predator bird gasping, that godawful
                                                        beagle braying at the dip in the street,
                                                        the chicken hitting the fryer.
When the birds strike the juniper, they sing like sailors,
the morning one loud twang of bawdy chicklettes heaving one whistle after another into the valley.

No, I know what’s said on the street. Laid
                     on my stomach at the top of the stair and gripped one long edge of
             carpet ‘til it was near pulled up by the staples.

                            Shouldn’t we be grateful for the diligence of those previous
              occupants that things are so hard to break?

It’s a caw, no, it’s
                                      curling around the maple, the hollow
                                      call through rotwood, the warm
                                      living room, the sudden
                                                                             crack under the heel, the feel
of something heavy passing just beyond the wall. My father moves as quickly to
move me to safety as that day I talked back, and his hand had whacked my ass
before I even knew my mouth had opened. Another
              (little) exercise in closeness while my mother and the dog are in
the basement under one of the pine rafters.

Yes, there’s been all the fair warning in that howl from up or down the hill, and
there have always been hills,
                    truck wheels laying the stones aside on the quarter mile gravel drive,
                    the constant sound of small rocks crushed beneath a heel or vehicle,
                    hooting train some miles down the track but moving fast,
                    squeaky brakes, the ears attuned to each departure where you can
hear the rubber slide to a whistle halt along the pavement,
            and yes, the “darlin’, it’s me—“
                                                                        No, cover your ears.

The implication is, of course, that some tongues lay,
like a pool of molasses in the cave of your spine,

some resonance lingers, like thin brown fingers pressing the right series of figures,
                        an entire mouth full of teeth drawn against tight lips. 
It’s quiet on the other end.
                                                        Then, the tone is pleading,
                                                        no other lover or cross to bear,
the fabled hands spread wide in the grass, shrugging away from the lens
                                                                        subtle white creak of a smile.

                            Casting the line
that still breaks some days. The neutral communication — no euphemistic brand
of delight to leaven that other set of ears,
                                                           to set another seed growing.

Dusk stops all the mouths some minutes
‘til the night sounds start, hand
                                                     poised at the door frame,
and some term of endearment will slip from the lips.

When we lived
in the little rental on Red Bank, cars
                                                           roared over my small body
                                                           which tilted in the bed posed just under the
                                             window. That was where that fat girl with the high
                                             voice read my diary aloud
                                                            to the kids at my birthday party. 

There are three chairs
at the edge of Mill Creek, clothes drying in the brush,

and one man shakes at the median, shuddering at one dollar and a smoke passed
off through a window,

and every time I see that blanket laid across the guard rail, I falter,
tight as the sirens screaming up the hill,
dropping low whenever I drive through that part of town.

But this is love:                           the match pack said
                                                that they had seen a cigarette fall
                                                on its filter, impossibly plumb
                                                with the pub floor, and it was already
                                                1980 — that some woman who would bring
                                                a body from her stomach some two years hence
was already beginning to doubt her eyes.

I have done no such thing.

What I have heard,
                                  for sure:

A mass of hands, that ends in one finger rasped on my teeth.
The immured’s requests for cigarettes.
The long odds of the blooming trees on this kind of street.
“I finally got the money you sent. Thanks. [But] it took such a long time.”
Those abstract maths cramped against a paper.
Proof enough.

Windows don’t obscure an obvious cry,
so it has taken some time.

It has taken time
                                   to hear things the way they might be, rather than the way
                        they pulse through the halted air in some paused summer, some
                        screaming fall where the curls of numbers dragged a bleat of rage
                        from both my father’s lips and mine.

                                   But at the edge of the stream, there was no frog song
                                    to mop from the brow, from the careful bare feet
thrust into the shale. I had my father’s face,

which split down the center at some point or another.

I could swear we heard that man in his shack,
                                    waiting for us to leave,
and come years down, they laid a rail through the wood,
and the bright sound of rags had withered in the lolling green.
The flub of the fish against the line,
my shoulder shifting in its mooring,
the minnows perforating the surface,
the winnow of reeds.

I learned to beat the dog there, and would hear the open hand thump on a hollow abdomen.
                    In those occasional mornings when the animal’s sex
had gripped another’s, my hands could not come clean enough after dividing
them. I soon took to using sticks.

I imagined this differently,

Policeman policeman
Do your duty!
Here comes the lady
With the big fat booty.

And my hands know incineration, but I can’t hear the dropped caw or quirks
between — what spends so much time hiding

You sound hard to me, as if you’ve never been soft or known enough to not dare.

Those templates of noises we make are cast for a reason.

And the drag of metal across the concrete, or the rev and fricative of that name so
rarely said

            is the length and breadth of some territory lately seen.

            Hear it re-placing itself near.

My father told me that the sound of my first molar
was like someone rubbing a balloon with a wet finger — the cut coming in.

What’s regulation for this kind of thing?

Some way that illuminates the gesture, the tell

                    laboring under a pretense of transparency—
and, like any picture taken through a pane,
shadows the taker,
                                    the interior immured against
                                    the incursion of another eye.

Cramped, hopeful squeaks—
the wood breaking the lie of the chisel, the latter still — gleam
                                                            like the day they came out of the box —
                                                            the way all tools shine with disuse.

I used my one audible wish to bring a kitten out of the storm —
                                                       What did you do
                                                       with yours?

Let the bone squeal while it was still in the flesh,
                        let yourself drown in the gasp of some heavy, other light,
                        that creases your ear, even now.

Some unavailable frequency, some other wonder. 

You showed me that film once, where the child dies,
                                    then wakes,
                                    to chew off her mother’s breast—

And I thought, “well, how did he think it would be?”
Her raw, fat face shining in the frame,
                                    the high, carping voice bright

against my bound mind, when the quiet things
                                   breed against the temporal lobes.

Passion Contents


Kate Polak is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Cincinnati. She lives in Ohio, where she is gleefully working on her dissertation and her graphic memoir, Top Heavy.,/i> Her work has appeared in Folio, Thin Air, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and elsewhere.