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February 22, 2018 | Poetry

Four Poems

Vandana Khanna

Four Poems photo

The Goddess Calls a Truce

For one night, I’ll let myself be mistaken
for someone you once loved, give over

my hair like a night with no end. I won’t
speak of my need to shimmer, of how

you didn’t make room for me on the weary
grass that grows near your heart. My fingers,

inky from drawing birds all day, leave a trail
across your skin, a blurred blessing in blue.

You insist we rip them in half, take to our bed.
All my good work undone. Even the season

is a sore disappointment: blooming when it
should freeze, snow melting to dull water.

I grow our loneliness in my mouth, feed you—
sweet and bleak— under a halo of buzzing stars.

For some girls it’s impossible

To line her lips red, make her third eye flare.
To grow this world each dark-marrow night
with just a breath: all those thick-hipped trees
full of rumor and birdsong. It takes a lifetime

to become her: to walk into that jungle and let
the animals smell the rain-throb on your skin,
songs of burning line your mouth black, make
you forget the music your own voice makes.

You can’t ignore the ache deep in the wooded
muscle of your heart—a territory you divide
and light to keep the dark away, to thaw
the sweetness from your blood.

Take his name in vain because it’s the only
one you know, because it’s his heart you
will waste time mending. Your bones ready
to dissemble, mind already aflame.

Someone, hand this girl a match.

Goddess Diary #1

That boy who doesn’t cut his hair—
who won’t open his eyes when you

dance, you want him to like you
back. Like you more. He can sit

in the rain as long as it takes, moving
his lips in a chant you’re sure must

be holy. He’s either praying or pretending
and you’re fine with that. When he

opens his eyes and asks you to pierce
your nose, clean up that black eyeliner

before meeting his parents, you will
do anything, speak in the passive voice.

Never mind how pining doesn’t suit—
bowing when you wanted to spit. He’ll

tell you, get thinner, so he can trace a map
of where your bones bend and become

sacred, where it hurts to be you. Skip
every lunch for an eternity, make a tether

from your hair so he can tie you to
his world. Hide the broken halo

of dead bees falling from your mouth
still tasting of small poisons.

Destruction Myth #3

When the world has me by its teeth
it’s what I deserve—the bite and bruise
slack-jawed faith, tongue stuttering on
the names of god, one nonsense syllable
at a time. Then, my prayers—blood-laced
wasp-heavy—dragged through dirt and honey

and pine is what I bring to be blessed.
I can sing like all the other girls, my lips
the wrong shade of martyr, my gold just
as dull. Each hunger starved. I want to
learn how to turn all these hurts holy but
there’s no one that speaks animal and leaf.

I mean to say yes but, in whispers, everything
ends up sounding like death.


image: Aaron Burch