I remember falling upon, striking
the pulp of wood and rags, blood and grasses,
uncertain whether I was a blistering agent
or a small cavity. Twenty years later,
when I move my body, or part of my body,
sexual passion—that loupe, that exquisite
magnifying glass—is an adventure I am ashamed
of having wanted standing up!
I am not ashamed of the arrow-shaped leaves
or sticky spadix enclosed within the spathe,
since until this very moment I hadn't realized
that the minute, rudimentary sac, excited
among the dictionaries, sunlight clinging
to her behind by suction, was me.
Even then, I was open at both ends,
born on a dead-end street.

Into silence, sweet apples, and climbing plants
cultivated for their idyllic flowers
(time and place like a mountaing for a jewel),
comes a horseman, a pleasing note in the chord.
Wither and fetlock, breast and flank in a line
follow the path of the trees anlong the river at a little trot,
very slowly, a device for measuring.
The horseman turns lemon-scented clusters of flowers
into clear, resonant sounds by dancing his horse
in the impressions it's left in the north side
of the earth, in the very pattern itself.
The man might be a medicine man or devoted champion
of ladies (in either case, he has illicit goods:
a piece of cloth brilliant with light an luster
attached to his staff, and his horse is a rich brocade),
or a modern-day horseman—eroded, a coarse fabric,
a small tuft wrapped loosely around the hide of his animal,
smelling deliciously of a printed translation
of the dialogue, all hair removed.
Never once does he look at me.
I find him terribly seductive,
and know he is excited by me.

I see myself lying face down in submission and adoration
on an invented foundation of crushed rock
in the secluded bower. I don't excite or provoke,
don't convey a message, or turn my glance.
I always feel washed out by evening.
I am the innermost ring of a target spread out
and extending on all sides simultaneously—a measure
of grain, one leg of the carcass of an animal,
a watery layer of paint washing someone's hands,
a scullery maid. At the very center
I am a halting passage, a means of approaching
eight hallways—and at the end of any one of them
a pregnant room intended for general use,
responsive to the secrets of the Mediterranean.
I flow, sweep, beat with a lapping sound,
then lie down like paint on canvas, naked
on the bed, legs apart.
I am pure oxygen!
I am a gaping mouth offering unobstructed entrance
—gaps to the sky, spaces to the sea.

The official seat of authority: a boy with an erection
sensing by touch my hand, his organ
a spirally coiled shell, broad foot,
distinct head silky as velvet, ardent
as fresh wind—a veal loaf out of a domed nest
built of twigs and damp earth: I feel tremendous joy.
There is a great rush in my eyes.
His fibers contracting and relaxing seem to be there
only for the fruit of the matter at hand:
to flourish his construction
though the roots, leaves, and seeds are poisonous.
Falling on bent knees, chivalrously
he sets about to disembellish me.
His position, form, and configuration employ my eyes in seeing
that nothing will stop him, that what he is doing
is the excercise and enjoyment of a right,
needed to achieve certain results.

A regular rising and falling, like a red pigment
made from dried bodies of females, is transmitted
through my vent of an extinct volcano.
Nothing remais of its former glory,
nothing marks the loss of blood,
even when the regular rhythm becomes brutal
and I feel within me the cave-in of a feathery cluster
of pinkish flowers I never knew was there.

I never intended to expose my body to his
soft, fine hair, fur, wool.
In the spring, when the snow melts, numerous small beetles
portray stained glass windows in sharp, delicate relief,
and like a stone or metal slab
in which the impossible is arranged,
the unexpected meeting with my violation
always appears a likelihood, a probability,
something due me by tradition and nature.
How is it that at the appointed, fated moment
when false perceptions with a compelling sense of reality
unclothe themselves to me, I have not managed
to plug up the female side, which I still see
as a human figure with halo and wings, a little angel
acting in response to invasion
by gathering into clusters and glimmering faintly?

I came into contact with my father as much as I could
before a pain caused by strong guilt and embarrassment
caused me to bend forward and walk as if in descent.
Several months later, a large froup of carnivorous
birds impaling their prey on sharp-pointed thorns
and barbs of wire fencing showered from the sky.

Who is it? Who's there?
(Who can it be knocking at my door?)
A tall, thin man with a white beard
and a blue swallow-tailed coat,
red-and-white-striped trousers,
and a tall hat with a band of stars?
A friend sharpened like the head of a spear,
rolling in a complete circle, head over heels?
I don't know.
In the center of the page, I am so lost
in motion, melting in order to determine
strength, effect, worth, and desirability,
so caugh up in the tribal dance
that my vision runs lenghtwise through the war paint.
I swing shut by my own weight unless held open,
sufficiently deep and wide to provide passage for vessels.
Some custom or principle keeps me from colliding
with large, creamy flowers, dense shrubbery,
ships, innocent swallows, shells: I am a shore,
a coastal region, a female child on a bed of roses,
the sheets of a sail beating rhythmically,
an image on a cross,
on a wall.

In heaven, something suggestive of an eye diverts notice
from a secluded threshold where glue, wax,
and clay dolls sit sprawled in specific order.
A wading bird resembling a stork, dozens of
tropical hummingbirds, plants prized as flavorings,
and climbing vines with yellowish flowers
are dying in the heather which gave way to a crust
of volcanic glass—and the illustration
showing parts in relationship to the whole
is in shadow.

Is the oder left by the passing of animals
in a place with perches for birds and foundlings
the native habitat of women?
The restful scene on the fabric is woven
of sustained, melodious songs of larks,
stamens and pistils enclosed in petals and sepals,
soft, moist, shapeless masses of apples,
nerves, blood vessels,
wood, paper, rags.
Does the tapestry represent a fertile green spot in the desert
or is it the brilliant, multicolored plumage of a small bird?
I no longer know how I got here,
who drove me from the open
into traps and nets.

The narrow body leads up to the room.

I remember the spearlike weapon
with its barbed head and thick, soft underfur,
the row of cut grain left to dry in a field,
the pin inserted into the loop in the rope
to prevent slipping, to tighten,
to hold.

In the little light remaining: an asphyxiating mixture
of names and fetal membranes,
a visual image or taste in the mouth that persists:
the strong, translucent skin of the lake,
the thick, edible root growing in moist ground.

The upper part of the glacier where snow turns to ice
like a nap worn down so the threads show through
is invested with the bodily form
of a fold of tissue: my emptiness
a deep fissure brough into being
when the delicately-flavored layer surrendered,
a broken bird of paradise
under the coarse blanket of man,
leaving a trail of smoke, a path, channel, corridor
hereafter liable to wishes and desires
...to fingerings and penknives.

The cross can barely be made out through the fog.

Empty space, sound fading
into nothing, is too beautiful
for the being conceived as perfect,
omnipotent, omniscient originator
and ruler of the universe.


So happy I could cry every night
I regard with wonder the hard, dark tree,
the tusk, the bronze nails,
the twisting son
associated with a place and a cause.

Slim, pointed bronze nails penetrate
even as I watch His head start (startle)
to a more distant point in space and time
so as to be within (He prays) the skull.
He knows how to swim, to be bodily taken up
in the as-well-as-possible-under-the-circumstances
position—eyes, ears, nose, mouth, jaws
falling full tilt into the future,
His beard on the broken glass of His chest.

His main body, apart
from tributaries and appendages,
is so flimsy
curved bones raise a ridge in the fabric,
jutting outward like undernourished dogs sniffing
the anesthetic of wasted food.
And that demure fabric of matted natural fibers
placed upon, over, in front of (something)
so as to protect, shut in,
conceal—what a remarkable be careful or else!
Those beautiful legs; the unexplained secret unknown
tipped with a venomous sting behind the scrap of washcloth...
I don't linger to spread wishes or yearnings in that obsolete
girdle—and yet they make an opening,
ripping the branching, threadlike filaments
that form my gaze when I imagine
He greatly desires me.

To attend the entrance of another heavenly body above the
I lay open a small plot of land, a flowerbed,
and fasten shut with nails the tips of my fingers.
Then, sensitive as flesh und nails,
in a gesture of one current flowing across another
—a sort of pantomime
of controlling natural events and forces—
and with a single insult that cuts to the quick,
my body rolls in a complete circle, heels over head,
and I am beneath the surface of the open boat
which holds in its body the sugary smell of soiled clothes
and emotional involvement.
He is there too, wearing a beard, a gun,
wearing hollows in the stone steps, breaking down
resistance by relentless pressure,
striking with His open hand:

I am partial,
perched as a bird coming up for air,
furnishing excuses for sudden, strong filthy
emotions as if displaying brightly-colored tropical fish,
their beautiful flattened bodies, my thin,
membranous wings.


It would not catch me unaware
if this wasted garden wre revealed as hollow,
like the grooved teeth with which the snake injects its venom.
He would come out through a silvery-whit, lustrous gate,
snarled in the long branches of trees.
He would have on his usual clothes, but,
in addition, he would have on his head brilliant,
threadlike antennai with scales, and on his back
four gauzy wings of lacy fabric covered with a thin layer of gold.

Intimating a covert meaning, his glance meant I had to wear
a gown of crisp, transparent fabric that trailed
behind like a retinue, in such a way
that my parts could be recognized at any time,
in any ceremony. Fading in the sun,
exhausting a hooked fish, giving birth,
engaging in the cries uttered by combatants,
moving rhythmically with my fiancÚ
at an inn for travelers, I had to fly the colors
of hidden fluctuations and variations.
That I was a female who performed various acts
was understood, emphasized
with daubs of sticky, greasy substance
—and such words as yolk sac, libido, and pinochle
smeared the rest of their remarks.
I knew what they meant, so lowered my head
and left the table.

I didn't have something remarkable to perform on the girls
in my school, at any rate, not that sor of thing.
I didn't have on the red shoes, or the strip
of iron, rubber, or leather attached to the underside,
moving here and there, astir with the instinct.
Innocence was a fugue in the shape of a sharp, woody spine,
a corpse intended for study and dissection,
a word or phrase that denoted the door to that action
which attracted and frightened me enormously:
I never talked about it with anyone.

On all sides of me, radiant with color: uttered words of desire.
Within me, surrounding me with its soft skull,
was such an infant, its tender voice
a tepid presence for more that three years
riding between my thighs, like scrapings of a cavity
I had to regulate the flow of,
like wind through the muzzle
and into the top of the skull of a dog.

What I have referred to as the large, four-footed nature of my
is not the fact that she feared an expulsion from the womb.
On the contrary: her shrub of profusely blooming pink flowers
protruding from a fleshy receptacle
consisted entirely in the intention to pursue her desire
to have, to possess, a handful of spewed-to-early limbs.
There are harvest times, bed times, when a woman
is not soft leather used for gloves or having a child,
not open to tenderness. In the garden
she persisted in causing a shadowy image (her hatred)
to appear upon the silvery surface (me)
when I was a bright red inner working inside her.
As conclusion to her recital, she chose
to utter the words of her wretched crime
—her weak heart, her feeble attempts to murder me.

An immense space, the fertile plot.
There were flowers, vegetables, and fruit for me to roam
as a ghost amid showy, colorful female parts,
there were parallel plantings of clipped shrubs,
and shady bowers (one in the form of a resting place
was overripe with vines with huge,
starlike, membranous flowers).
There were fragrant purple flowers that bloomed at night,
which the gardener plucked and wove into his hair
in the evening when he went out whoring.
This fertile, well-cultivated plot made a hole through me.
I chose as more desireable the plot that had weeds with broad
and spikes of greenish flowers, chose the waxy fats
and silky fibers of seed pods and mulch.
But to my mother, these spoors, these scents of the presence of
meant only that she had not yet been able to kill the taste of
Ah! What a nuisance! And it had gone on for so long:
minutes, hours, days, weeks, months.
There is so much tongue, uvula, epiglottis
to come into possession of, to know how to swim,
the little one who glides inside you.
Are ther any deeper layers that these random walls
of vessel, artery, vein? Did each of my changes of position
among the innermost receptacles remind her
of the abhorrent boiling of skin, bones, and connective tissue
of which I was the instance, with no issue to the sea?

I don't know how I came to swim—a slender,
grooved lead bar guided to a target automatically—
in that boxlike compartment; a lid, a flap
of tissue covering erupting eyes and teeth.

I loved those remote, funnel-shaped mornings
within the body, cool hues of emerald less yellow
than that of growing grass, the ligh beginning to emerge.
I would lay bare fresh, untrained blossoms and leaflike organs
which the night had made ready for me.
Sometimes I would be in readiness for a week or more
for an odor of roses or new-mown hay.
Firmly self-contained at first, the slow waltz of unfolding
grew in deep shade, with a small opening at the top
to exhibit its pale corolla, still firmly rolled up,
erectile spine stuck with clinging seeds
and small prickly fruit.

Near the beginning of the course of events, upon rising,
nausea and vomiting falling in luxuriant folds,
my mother would make ready beforehand,
stretch out full lenglth along the ground
beside a container of woven rushes and twigs,
and the pruning shears,
and we would move suddenly and involuntarily
into a rich, impossibly long-spined state of semiconsciousness:
When the snow melts, producing unstoppable holes,
we'll put you bluntly into the silvery slit trench,
and the dark pinks to purplish pinks
to mederate reds to purplish reds of your body that thrives
in deep shade beside the uproar of fruit trees
will conceal your edible flesh.
She reflected upon a jointed tool for disengaging obstructions,
even more fearful of her own depths than last year.

It was a ritual or test to which my mother and I were promised
—covered, stained with blood, encrimsoned.
A suggestive, covert business,
the most suggestive, perhaps.


I have no protective or concealing cover:
I am an open fire, open package,
the fixed, bony sockets of my skull
like buds on a twig or tuber.
Everything everywhere is at a little distance:
where there is smoke there should be...well,
the scapula, of course—fine bone,
divining rod—
used to express if I should fall...

My mother makes the characteristic cry
of a submissive animal
invoking heaven.
She makes me think of the bursting forth
of large groups of fins, gills,
cartilaginous skeletons swimming together
in shallow waters,
turbulence in the atmosphere causing the sparkling
of lustrous white scales, a boiling
like the winging of birds' bodies unlocking
trails of smoke as they turn
in a threatening sky.

I see perfect, undiluted, red shining boats,
oars pulling against the flow of salt water,
sails pulled back, rolled, and tied
down like secrets. I see thickets
of swelling, turbulent yearning
—yes, I see that valuable sap.
The yellowish wax secreted
by the happiness I've been assured lies before me
goes raw again
as I look out the window with my mother
and see to the end of time the red snake we woke
whirling so high and far from yesterday
as it emerges from its egg
to ensanguine the entire land.

The areas of water devoted to breeding
are the cores of the world.

The gills and complex bodies forming this profusion of life
make light, sharp, snapping noises
as they burn blue-black in the open recess
—nocturnal, luminous organs; fire opals;
my mother's poisonous words.
Ripening early in years, my wishes and dreams,
aimed straight at their targets and a little flustered,
came into view like planes appearing in the sky
by the simple fact of sight. What did it mean
that I was then singled out, understood to act
as a symbol of my father's teeth, hooves,
and routine functions? Who can tell
what she gained by telling me that the woman's robe
that frequents human dwellings
is a transmitter of disease?
Well, well, little girl,
having blue periods of blood and dead cells
means you can harbor flowers, boats
borne by the tides,
and children.

So that's where this argument
leads: I am a mirror all over.

What am I doing
tethered to this stake?

Karen Kelly
The Red Snake We Woke