Austin Hummell



Whole months pass without sun. February
all coffee and the stink of iron. Once,
a girl from Carolina left me
for dead. Something about ambition
and the ropy vein in the bend of my arm.
I lanced them both with flowers from another
country. You should have seen it.

Years of that until the windows were full
of a juice called methadone designed I guess
to sweep the streets of me. I weighed myself down
with coats of it. I unplugged the voices of my friends.
The world? Fuck. I can’t get enough of it.



It must be a rupture like waking,
all that light, telepathy and dental work,
and like the sever in the sylvan groove
that secrets bad sex and calculus
you bury it, deeper than infancy,
deeper even than the memoir
closed by birth, each leaf a little mattress
beneath which the memory sits
like a shelled and irksome legume
not even the fussiest princess senses.

But in the face of every fetus
is an alien: the disproportionate
head, blunted and sexless, eyes
like raindrops, sleepy and dark.

If it was flesh that muffled the sound
of your mother’s voice,
you might swear all talk was telepathy.
If born into a hospital fluorescence,
you might recall a blinding light,
what Saul saw and called God.

Or say your head pushed out ahead
of your shrunken and colored self,
the pressure it suffers might seem
a vice for curious surgery. Torn

from the warm swamp of her womb
against your living will, you’d remember
a struggle, like abduction, a gallery
of eyes and the naked sensation
of being watched, for the first time.



First to go are the names of fruit
and the people you haven’t loved.
The dental assistant who pats your shoulder
when the drill stops, the waitress whose smile
was broken by stroke, the mailman
with his tattoos and tramp of snow
in the late morning. Call him Karl,
Karl who you’ve seen in the produce aisle
talking to himself because he can’t remember
if it’s turnip or mustard greens
that the man he has loved for twenty one years
wants, the man he talks about on your porch
with uninterruptible speed but whose name
escapes you now like his illness, though you
recall its manifestation in spots,
in the gentling of memory. Spots
like the ones blooming beneath the tan
on your hands that you notice when
you take your uncle his omelet. For him
there is nothing so lucid as 10 am,
when the spills of breakfast settle
and a nephew returns with a tray of nouns
and a name just below his forehead.
Starts with a B. Even in the snarl of tissue
we call his brain you count one hundred
trillion synapses down which chemicals
still whip fibers and tear across cell divides—
one hundred trillion to lay down the jumpy tracks
of memory, nudge his blood, chill
what is left of terror, schedule sleep,
help him walk or shape a plan
to kill himself. Bird, he says, Ethel Merman,
with rope. The day I rubbed my friends
from the Memorial Wall. Pomegranate.


These poems are taken from the forthcoming book Poppy, to be released in Fall by the Del Sol Press.