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Know, first, that she does not remain
behind the baleen forever.
Know, too, that the whale is unaware
of the woman drowning on its tongue.
And knowing this, recall the keening,
the slow build of sound in the body;
that we were afraid and pressed our fear
low in our breast, held it alongside our breath;
that the tenor of our grief matched,
so nearly, the tenor of our hysteria;
how finally there was no whale
or breath or sound or woman;
how, finally, there was only the body,
rising through the water toward the sun.
Arkansas Love Song
Fences break a landscape
the way a body makes
a road—somewhere between
Memphis and home,
the shoulder collects masses
of hide and blood and white,
white tendon. The road binds
us, one to another,
and I try to make the binding
mean something about family
and forgetting and the failures
of resurrection. This
is a failure. The disarticulated
wing stands for a disarticulated
wing. The rusted breast, the same.
This is not about my mother.
It is about nothing else.
Where she is opened. Where she is closed.
When he opens her chest, separates the flat skin
of one breast from the other, breaks the hinge of ribs,
and begins, slowly, to evacuate her organs, she is silent.
He hollows her like a gourd, places her heart
below her lungs, scrapes the ribs clean of fat
and gristle with his thick fingers. He says, Now you are ready,
and climbs inside. But she is not ready for the dry bulk
of his body curled inside her own. She is not ready to exhale
his breath, cannot bear both him and herself,
but he says, Carry me, and she carries him beneath her
knitted ribs, her hard breasts. He is the heart now,
the lungs and stomach that she cannot live without.
“Arkansas Love Song” was first published in Indiana Review and “Whale” in Hayden’s Ferry.
Donika Ross received her M.F.A. from the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas at Austin. She is a Cave Canem Fellow and a former fellow of the Bucknell Seminar for Younger Poets. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Hayden’s Ferry Review,TORCH, Indiana Review, Quarterly West, and Best New Poets 2007. She is currently pursuing her PhD in English at Vanderbilt University and is the Poetry Consultant for The Feminist Wire.