My brother tells me he’s going
to the doctor; he gets teary too easily
now. There must be something wrong
that will show up in the blood.
I don’t tell him I think tears are primordial,
they’re mammoths and cave bears and pterodactyls,
they’re better than private jets
and all the cars on I-75, they’re our goddamn right.
He’s a straight man and a firefighter.
I don’t tell him what’s been broken over all these years
fills up the ponds behind our hearts.
It happens slowly:
a dropped glass, a lost book.
Bicycles. Old apartments with their clever
mice. Trains, still hooting plaintively.
Even a feather now
and the water overflows. It has to.
Yeah—all that rusty junk
makes each of us a back yard in the rural
everywhere of America. Brother,
we’re here now. Brother, everything
shows in our blood.
In the dream in which we have to move,
our new, small apartment cannot hold
everything we own, the detritus
of so many years
and family heirlooms and secrets
hoarded from trips to the dark forest.
Strangers wander into our rooms
and every closet is nervous
of their touch. But there, on a shelf,
an aquarium holding
tiny magical fish: a school
like a flock
of birds, each brown and gray fish
marked like a tiny wren,
and when we lean in close to the glass
the sound of peeping,
the beginnings of song.
I’m not very good
at being in this world,
I say to the corn.
A ruffle and shudder of wings
answers, ground birds I have frightened
with my human feet
into flight in the dark. Is it all right
to say I want
you to feed me love
every day, sweetness
dripping from your fingers like honey
so my lips and tongue get to do their jobs
with deftness made better
by practice? Maybe not.
I think I could be good
at being a star, the orbiting planets all
loving me, one of them at least squirming
with life. Yes. I would be best
at that: so far away
that by the time you saw me
I might be gone already.
The Invention of Language
What poor human animals we are
with words stuck in our throats
like moths trying to get to the light
outside our open mouths. Meanwhile dogs sing
meanings with their tails, vines climb
with calligraphic tendrils. There must be
worlds inside our bodies, too,
great civilizations rising like blood
to the surface of the skin—the crook
of an elbow, perhaps—when fingertips
find the right spot and trace
a new hieroglyphic, a symbol
of creation or the next great renaissance,
and the breath catches and the mind waits
like a drop of water on the tip
of a single green swaying blade.
Katherine Riegel is the author of two books of poetry: What the Mouth Was Made For and Castaway. She received her MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and teaches poetry and fiction at the University of South Florida. Her poems and essays have appeared in numerous publications, including Brevity, Crazyhorse, Mead, and The Rumpus. She is co-founder and poetry editor for Sweet: A Literary Confection.