The likelihood of transforming matter into energy is something akin to shooting birds in the dark in a country where there are only a few birds. —Einstein
In the left lane: two men in the cab of a jacked-up truck speed. The thin sliver of their side mirror tilts & I see an orange hat bobbing like a dented apple, five-o’clock shadow, the edge of a jaw, one cheek drooped like a hound’s. We’ve been following them for a mile when I notice the deer’s coarse hair ruffled in the whoosh like grass matted in a wet yard, & the hooves hooked, like the elegant ankles of a bride scooped up at the threshold, over the handles of the mud-splattered four-wheeler in tow.
The buck is closer than he appears. Limp, the slender body caves, a kind of surrender without surrender. How often have I longed to be ferried through cold that shears like the revolving barrel of the tractor’s blades in hay season? Last week, skidding on wet leaves, I flew off my bike into a parked car. The thing about bodies is that they break, in time, night pressing in: the mirror severed from the car’s door before the upper lip even registers concrete or its nerves drive the brain to adrenaline.
It’s a fact that starlight bends around the sun like a ring around a finger, a mountain’s switchback, the onyx icing the eyes of the deer. November: more blue, less bark. Distances are greater. The truck veers toward the exit, a golf ball sailing over the freeway, and we lose them, the dead animal gone into a blind spot behind a curve in the trees. They want freezer bags of meat, a rough coat, the antlers’ glazed rivers, the deer that won’t run into a clearing, a perfect shot, & later, even upside down, strung from a tree with its split hooves tied like a body bag, or a bag of corn meal, or a brown sack of red potatoes, will swing a dead weight. The radio blares a pop song. There are so many ways to pray. We can gaze into gray into blue into purple approaching the red-stained hill, the horizon vaster & smaller, our lives shrunk down to the exact. At some point, we get to leave. There is big space. We kill & are killed, our stupid mouths half-open. The tongue is a clause. It stops.
Early Arrival to a Beheading
Before me, a book of Flemish art: Samson, heroic & asleep, & his lover, her breasts shattering into stars above him,
two moons snoring through Eternity on a chaise, two armed guards at the bedroom door as she cradles his head. As if he were a swan instead of a man,
for a purse of coins, bluish silver, Delilah sharpened the blade of the servant who, blended in shadows & the signatures of rain, filed a dirk
into his hair like a slide, seven microscopic strokes, one for each lock razored loose, the hand’s desire to render him Baroque too strong for the brush that held it back, speaking to the scissors in Light.
Sweep it up: yesterday a stack of records slid across the table into a blue, dahlia-patterned bowl that torpedoed into the floor, a lake of green tea glittering crystal on the red Coca-Cola cup that had just held it, the day fallen & steaming.
But here, our severance gathers, in nests, under chairs, & into a field of splinters that the apprentice brushes into an anthill of kindling.
It was the charm of a gesture drowning in the charmlessness of the body, Kundera says, where I sit in the salon anticipating my summons.
Four months ago, sweaty & tired, I stepped from the brittle light into this bright interior of mirrors— gilt faces, swivel seats & wash basins, the black holes where people lose their heads.
* Absolute freedom: the body charmed out of its skin & moonlight filtering in through the ribs of the dark, a lofty guide toward some kind of subjectivity.
In kindergarten: my father drove us to pick up my mother from her work at The Paper. A bullet’s clawed scratching worried the wall of the passenger-side door,
the trunk duck-taped for the ride to the newsroom where ice cream’s éclairs, frozen shavings, fell out of plastic wrappers like death threats opened over the sink, licked shut by the crooked fingers that load the traps.
But in the old myths, a batch of poison calls for the fat of a redhead & only mistletoe cut with a golden sickle & caught in a white cloak saves the afflicted from death. Combing my hair this morning, the hydrogen bonds
knotted like a fence & denied all entrance, the alpha helices in a single strand twisted like roped ladders in each thin elastic body, a fibrous cortex, roofing mathematical braids over skin.
And in my lap now: Samson who razed a temple’s columns, about to be shorn. The first shadow following trust is a cuticle of doubt, my name scrawled in The Book of Appointments like a fistful of crabgrass persisting between footsteps, all faltering.
Self-Portrait with Phantom Limb & Vintage Revolver
And what is this? On the corner of Laurel & China I lift a moth’s rich brown & doily markings so its feelers, the smooth limbs of a stunned dancer,
suggest an origami fortune catcher where it lies in my hand, nine muscles in the hook of my thumb contracting to maneuver the small puzzle of bones
in my wrist into a cup that offers little more than the memory of ghost-flutter. And my life? I see it as a bullet stuck in the chamber
of a vintage revolver I bargained down to a third of the price. How tenuous these hands, whose whorled patterns the color of parsnips
now ruffle the injured wing-- a pleated skirt torn like a shadow book, lit & already yellowing from within—
so it folds back into itself & collapses. They hold whatever they can find: even my skull blooming like a fistful of red berries flung over snow,
a few bright interludes of trumpet between talk-radio muffled by running water. Why must the old faucet continue to drip?
Once, scientists believed that unpredictable pain in patients missing limbs was a fabrication of the mind & for decades no one knew why someone missing
his left hand could feel fingernails digging into a palm where none existed. And for years what was left unresolved grew into an ache
of nerves separated from their endings. And it must be that our knowledge of what is missing beats the body into hearing its own limitations,
a vernacular annunciated by absence so the mouth that in telling its secret, as da Vinci insists, places itself at the mercy of an indiscreet listener
like a limb that tries to speak but is lost & thus eternally present—a bullet that won’t discharge, the other end of the line silenced now as a revolver
that houses multiple chambers, a series of selves that spins inside the single cylinder of its hard body without release.
Over the pea plants, Mendel guessed that if two chromosomes touch, one bold strand crosses its leg over the other. I used to believe that when I grew up, I’d change back. Standing around a pool table in that old neighborhood, I remembered the lesson. When I learned to play, the man said hold the cue like a friend, not like you’re trying to own it. From my dead uncle I learned so many shots go missing that our inevitable vanishing seems always to be on the brink of vanishing. In Church Hill, from the stump of a beheaded crepe myrtle in the front yard another tree grows—not the same tree, but wildness returned, crooked life with tender buds. I woke up to the alarm: the incessant cricketing of a broken smoke detector.
I replaced the battery & from the stump of the lizard’s tail, exposed muscles braid over bone so that new skin emerges a different color. There are small scales: sand & grit, a voice that runs through water, rises from the belly like steam, the body being so filled with want. Beep, beep: a man’s voice on the message machine was tight, normal & downstairs my mother screamed his name before I left for school. Not because my father swung at her or missed the barn catching a gulf in flames on a hill, but because His name is the lonely she loves & my aunt’s husband was dead on their honeymoon. My aunt also was dead & for years he was everywhere she was not. In fact, she’s still not where he is. This is how the soul empties itself & floats.
Listening to Billie Holiday, her voice drags silk over gravel & glass. Because I want someone to hear me this way, let’s pretend the soul holds a basket of broken eggs. Yolks lost, the shells blade-thin are dressed in film that’s dried on the calcium’s EKG. Across town, a train howls the edge of a field—the narrowest causeways of desire, back alleys stamped to death on chicken bones & cigarettes. Tomorrow, I’ll scrub the walls & sing my mother’s song, her freckled hands inside mine. Soft-Scrub bleaches flecks in those crevices—perfect corners, eggs & sheets fitted for buoyancy, fight. Once, I lived in a house where downstairs, a couple made love & in spite of brick walls, I heard them, shrink to the size of a pea, quiet & light as its green weight held in the hand, and cross each other over. Mendel, you bred a hybrid strand of bees so vicious they had to be destroyed.
-- Joey Kingsley is an instructor in the English department at the University of Mary Washington. She received her MFA in creative writing (poetry) from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2012. She lives in Richmond, Virginia.