Sunday Jun 23

CroweMelissa Melissa Crowe is the author of Dear Terror, Dear Splendor, forthcoming in 2019 from University of Wisconsin Press. Her poems have appeared in Atlanta Review, Crab Orchard Review, and Seneca Review, among other journals. She’s co-editor of Beloit Poetry Journal and coordinator of the MFA program at UNCW. She lives in Wilmington, North Carolina.


Waiting Song with Dioramas

9 months pregnant

My husband hates a predator, can’t abide
fang or claw. But at the museum, I adore
the frozen scenes behind glass, time
stopped at last, so my own slowed brain

can take what it wants—the polished eye,
the plaster teeth, almost-clash of beast
and lesser beast. I need the unnatural
stillness, nascent space in which nothing

transpires yet—each moment a dusty frond
that, always and never delicate, cannot
unfurl. But also, waiting, I wish
to resign myself to nature. At each tableau

I say like a mantra, These things happen,
till my man, himself a tender shoot,
his hand softly at the small of my back,
presses me toward the next window.

My body, swollen with cargo I’ll carry
forward, then let go whether I wish it
or not, is happy to linger here, too—
where early humans squat

by a meager fire, shearing meat
from bones, a woman nursing blankly,
nipples that droop to her lap. Or here
where a couple, heavy browed

and lightly furred but otherwise built
like us, regards a terrifying bird
just wing beats from their necks.
My husband, himself expecting,

himself a clenched fist, prepares
to hurl his body between even this
still threat and any hunted thing—rabbit,
seal, waxy baby swaddled in its sleep.

One Reason to Stay

Yes—I’m still hungry. Last night
in a dream I ate fists of flour, dry white

caking my mouth till I couldn’t
breathe, but listen: whoever tells you

sixteen is the time of your life
is wrong.

Sixteen was a bathtub of busted tile,
can of pig meat from catholic charity,


boy after sweaty boy with his fingers
at the buckle of my jeans.

Sixteen was mean.
I tried to sleep through it

but the alarm kept going off.
Now there are nights I can’t sleep at all

for the worry—bills, breast lumps,
cracks in the cellar walls,

but it’s two dozen years since
I locked the bedroom door

and pen-knifed my forearms,
the thin skin of my thighs,

since I traced the blue wrist line
I might cut if one more fool told me

it doesn’t get any better. It did,
in a million ways I can’t say

because the language of forty
and sixteen have so few words

in common. I can tell you this: last night
I woke choking to find a warm man

willing to scoop the ghost flour
from my mouth with a kiss.

(for my little sister, coming out)

Afternoons you cartwheeled, six years old
and clumsy, across our unmowed lawn
in your grass-stained sweat suit, your left eye

lazy, right eye sticker-patched beneath
thick glasses and crooked, mom-cut bangs.
From kitchen window I watched you

concentrate and flail, fall
and rise and cartwheel, some days until
the sky got dark or the knees of your pants

bled through. Dogged you were, are,
in your pursuit of what your body might not
do. These days I see you, some stranger

strapped to your back, leaping from plane
into terror, screaming glory into that thin air.
I see the scars that braid above your wrist’s

metal plate, your spine’s wrong turn,
your fist fights with schizophrenic veterans
on the ward where you nurse nights.

I see you in plaid and winged eyeliner
in the Dyke March. Little sister,
you press your tender chest into

the frightening, falling world as though
to get up in this fucker’s face might be
the only way to suffer its slings,

its sweet and sorry flings, its kisses
and cuts, as though you meant
to cartwheel into fist after fist forever.