Mary Biddinger’s most recent book is O Holy Insurgency (Black Lawrence Press, 2012). Her poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Barrelhouse, Bat City Review, Blackbird, Crazyhorse, Crab Orchard Review, Forklift, Ohio, Guernica, Gulf Coast, Pleiades, Quarterly West, and Redivider, among others. She teaches literature and poetry writing at The University of Akron, where she edits Barn Owl Review, the Akron Series in Poetry, and the Akron Series in Contemporary Poetics.
Death of a Protagonist
The book told the story of how to tell a story
down a well, because at least a well is deep
or good at concealing lost jewelry. I flattened
my protagonist like homemade squid ink
linguine. I took my protagonist for a ride on
the Pike’s Peak Cog Railway. It now runs
year round. As I child I ran year round, but
now I start wrapping myself in yarn by May.
The boss assigned me a feature, but to me
a feature was more a cinderblock thrown
from a balcony into the mall fountain.
In my town, the grandmothers washed
their girdles and silverware in the mall
fountain. My protagonist once contracted
a case of German Measles from drinking
unpasteurized goat milk sold by a street
vendor. His grandmother washed his feet
in cider and pounded arugula until fever
retreated. Once, after flatlining, my
protagonist was resurrected into the body
of an ornamental cabbage. I sat on that
globe all day until I ran out of eggs.
Sometimes You Have to Let a Sister Go
I huddled under the black plastic tarp
of your family, the backyard stacked with boards
that were once a shed. I named all
of my saints. My charming mannerisms failed
to charm, like a silver Idaho trinket
down the storm sewer in November. No way
to stop the spin. You said we would travel all
the way to Thailand. Unburied
handfuls of plastic soldiers you never forgot.
Some mornings you shook
like an imaginary seamstress, a tremble-fox.
Then I was a good sister.
Clean apron, endless stacks of bandages or
prayers without subtlety.
You noticed how tiny my feet were, finches
in green slippers. Sandpaper
but the fine kind. Not a haunted fraternity
house, wingless jet plane.
Evenings you worked on our family crest,
a thistle buried in deep hay.