The Treed Lady
When the boy in my bible class planted a wad
of Bazooka Joe at the root of my skull, he didn’t
expect a sapodilla to grow. Wrist-thick trunk
tangled in tresses overnight, white sap gumming
cotton sheets, my lilac pajama sleeves. Smell
of something sweet, green–not grass or home
of the original mango. A miracle for having
forgiven this boy for putting his hands on me,
no penitence for his trespass in the garden
of my hair. Another tree of knowledge to press
my crown into. Though ruffians teased, would
pin me down, dig nails into the bark banking
my neck, pull sap until it snapped. My new
thirst unimaginable. But there are ways to live
with the gifts we’ve been given: I cast shade
wherever I picnic, and as the fruits sag heavy
from the upper boughs, I can shake my head,
release their tender yield. As when the sap slips
viscous down my back, my lover scrapes it clean
with a plastic spatula, and we chew for hours.
Parable: How to Escape the General Inside
Disappear, again. No white knight. Covered heads under cover
of night’s starless steed, unbridled city quiet under occupation
(Mosul at night)—a dozing cabbie, a veil—
no ghost of ISIS past or future to swoop in and carry you away.
That day: you disappeared from homes and village, were divvied up
like livestock: separated into young and old, pretty and not pretty,
the only criteria for a wife.
If he is a general, and they’re not all generals,
though they wish to be, you must ask
for a bigger house, one with Venetian blinds
and a western toilet. He’ll give you what you want
because he wants you to treat him
like the general inside him.
But once you’re in
the big house, once you’re mourning–having asked
for your forty days–you’ll need a room for all your grief,
You’ve taken off your rings and covered your hair.
This house will not do either. Tell him.
Your tongue is long , he says, don't talk until I'm finished or I will cut it out.
Toronto Metro : “Yazidi woman made a daring escape but her 12-year-old daughter remains ‘married’ to ISIS fighter”; Inquisitr: “ISIS sends horrific rape and torture video to parents: daughters’ body parts left on doorstep”; Christian Today: “More ISIS atrocities surface: 250 women executed for refusing ‘sexual jihad’”; The CNN Freedom Project: “‘Hundreds’ of Yazidi women killing themselves in ISIS captivity.”
You watch your own kin cut herself
with a bit of window glass. No place is safe.
He must believe he’s smarter than you are.
Talk too much and you and your sisters will be beaten,
split up, restrained with electrical tape, raped,
which is to say,
your new marriage will be consecrated,
which is not to say, you have lost.
Instead of fear, show dissatisfaction,
that you’re unimpressed, that if you’re the wife of a general,
you should have a gas range, room to entertain.
You move again—until you find a wooden door, the balcony,
a key, the grand escape: some honest do-gooder who’s secured
fake ids, helped you and your four sisters flee.
Remember, it is a single-use escape hatch.
The generals are back in the village, choosing new girls.
They’ll beat them all this time and split up sisters.
No negotiation, no western house. They will be lucky
to keep their names. How can a general trust another
girl after you lied to him? He will show you
that the general is smarter: he will clamp down his fist.
She will bear him a son. Or he’s not done yet.
Wild, Fallible Beasts
In the dream, my daughter,
just three, peers at the edge
of the hippo tank and I’m holding
her with the type of grip
most mothers use when hoisting
their sunscreen-slick toddler,
as she leans in, squealing,
but then her weight shifts
and she tips into the tank
and it’s high enough that I
cannot swing my leg
over the concrete bulwark,
nothing at my feet to stand on,
which is why I was holding her
in the first place. Their teeth
are not tea-stained marshmallows
and I’m spared the sound, a silent
horror film, this a nightmare
another mother’s lived through.
I read the story of the boy mauled
by two jaguars at the Little Rock Zoo,
how the crew used fire extinguishers
to blast the big cats back, though
the black one had bitten the boy’s
foot and the yellow his nape.
If we’re looking for a causal chain,
here’s where Harambe goes down
with a thud. Oh, Harambe, we love
you get up. Beautiful beast batting
his eyes and that intelligent stride.
When a team of scientists
and photographers and artists
goes into the Antarctic to study
its majesty, they return from the day’s
trek to discover a polar bear
breaking into a tent. They don’t kill
the bear because already he’s eaten
all of the food (straight through
aluminum cans), exposed film,
dragged an air mattress outside
and shred it to prayer flags.
One man’s wounded tone,
as if to say I trusted you, wild thing,
and you have abused my trust .
Dear human, even if you’ve paid
for the land, the single-story house,
you rent this plot from ants. And what
would Harambe’s mother, Kayla,
dead a dozen years now, a gas leak
at the Gladys Porter Zoo, what would
she do? Majestic in her own way,
the softness of her eyes, how she stroked
her two-year-old’s shoulders, scolded
him, a terribly familiar timbre.
I’d bet my own clapboard house
that she’d kill any man she thought
a threat. You, mother, standing
at the edge of the simulated rainforest,
your fear as real as the scrub grass
at your feet. All of our mothers
have failed. Sometimes it’s a bit
of fiberglass insulation spun
like carnival cotton candy. Five fingers
caught in a car door. My own child bit
by a beach restaurant’s pet macaw.
I watched it. She was pretending,
as children do, that she was cooking,
and when she offered the bird,
high in the rafters, a small plate
of crushed shells and sticks,
he swooped down and chawed
her meaty shin breaking into blood
bright as his back. The owners
squawked and my daughter cried.
They didn’t kill the macaw, but each
time we returned, he was caged,
and I was sorry for this, too.
There are things that don’t seem
possible, until they are. If we’re
taking sides, I’m taking this mother’s,
not because I’m a mother who’s
also failed, or the child of a mother
who’s failed too–all of our palm-sized
and glacier failures lined up,
reclaiming the word, which comes
from the Latin fallere, which means
to deceive: We want to believe
we can do better, but we too
are wild, fallible beasts.