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Laura Kochman

Keys to Missing Teeth

           That’s the whole tale, and I can’t lie anymore. – Slavic storytellers’ saying


I.   If there really is a house in Westport, it stands on gilded chicken legs. When I come near in a rental, it hops into the gummed-up lake and taunts me with the beak it wishes it had. No mill ever tilled those flat waters of lake feck and mosquito eggs. The forest on the mountain as bad as the house—impassable.  Do I look like a helicopter? My blades don’t swing so wide, my eyes are not so open. Inside the foul house, there is a room full to the gills with knickknacks and dead potato bugs, some hand-made brooms in the corner. Pickerel? Small-mouthed bass? A handkerchief tied around the forehead. An unsmiling face against grained wood. Scrawled on the garage: “Gil loves Mil,” a heart still pounding under white paint.


II.   Oh, Gene. Your softly cutting voice always lured me in, your tapping soles under the red moon. A milk jug landscape under the piano. The shepherdess in rosy silk, guttersnipes and penny violets beside her. If you can find middle C, you’ll always know the way back—past the grayscale abbey and o’er every mountain. Puddle the applesauce, play your hand. I’d call every morning if I could, from the balcony or the beach, across a crowded room or a pickle barrel.  Every softly cutting morning.


III.   Late night at the German restaurant and the dark beer is dripping.  Mahogany panels surround you’d, enclosing you’d in gherkins and schnitzel.  Do you’d see constellations when you’d eat your fried pickles?  Would you’d know a constellation from street lights hanging in the air?  A taste of turtle soup, a slap on the rear.  An apron frill brushing past a white window.  A whitened widow.  You’d wallow in the sycamores, wade through the evergreens.  It is raining outside in the German night, and you’d can’t go home.


IV.   If there really is a witch in Westport, she sits on the edge of a blackened forest. She eats ferns, swallows their fiddleheads whole. Bird goddess, whooping crane, pelican mouth. Stick your nose into the chimney, give me gifts that I cannot receive. Whose birth do you attend? Whose fingers do you stroke? Go mat your hair, go mutter to yourself. Grind your teeth to bits, but don’t forget me, whoever you are. I’m going swimming in the lake, going fishing, going out into the forest where your bony legs can’t find me, where your spells and charms won’t work. Where I can eat your memory, swallow you whole, bones, bits, and all.

Father to Son

There’s really no reason to come here anymore.
The belly’s boarded up and gases seep through the chinks
in the wall, the tower I built, the outer rim taken
in the seventh revolutionary war. My flag doesn’t fly.
Thunder growls behind the tree line, whips through the ruins,
marks the old precincts. Since I swallowed it,
no sun rots in the blood-filled sky, and light leaks in
only at the margins. Child, to come to the tower, to eat
in arms, to put a stop to sleep when there is no day,
just one tall, dreamless night—my flag doesn’t fly.
I will part my lips for the sun like a stone to rise,
like a sound to swell like a son to salvage,

but I make no guarantees, and never have.
I am always awake, and you are always apart.


Where is the line for limbo drawn?
In the air of body cavities,
that covert no-man’s land. In air stale
like vault-air, papery and thin.
Like light through skin, draw the line.

In light of vaults, what is the line?
It is shrill, and nausea-inducing.
It is not a rope, but a scent warning
you away: This Is The Line. Don’t Cross It.
It keeps you hungry but doesn’t let you eat,
burrowing in your stomach lining and sucking
up your breath, eating from the inside out,

all the pressure of seven oceans in a stomach.
And now you know the line, tow it back
taut from the edge, to stop the swinging,
to ease your tendons screaming,
one hand on each loamy end.


    – for Kilmainham Gaol


Peer through the slits to the wire, the fading murals.
This place is a relic and a reliquary, the highest degree
of sainthood, curled in, double pleated. Or maybe just eyes
squinting for leftover spatter on the stone wall, the same
wire-rimmed glasses, the shells singing 1916, Kilmainham
aching. Look up to the cathedral ceiling, the vaulted ribs—
digress from your human form. Gather into your cells.
Even in stillness you move with the earth, waiting
like a laurel on a windless day, you are spinning.
It’s this body that drags, is fluid, is petulant. Somewhere
in the bones, in the shading of muscle to tendon,
you appear. Locked up like a splinter examined under glass,
sliced into the smallest version of yourself, and still
you press against the frame. Still a fog gathers at the edges
of the long-clear lenses, still something red seeps out
from the brickwork. You know how Daphne felt inside
her tree, her skin peeling every spring like your own
roots you to this moment. Hard earth of termites and flaking
fingernails, stop spinning. Stop twisting my limbs into being.