Fall like an ordinary beast

Five poems by American writer Nicole Sealey, from the book Ordinary Beast (2017):

*

A Violence

You hear the high-pitched yowls of strays
fighting for scraps tossed from a kitchen window.
They sound like children you might have had.
Had you wanted children. Had you a maternal bone,
you would wrench it from your belly and fling it
from your fire escape. As if it were the stubborn
shard now lodged in your wrist. No, you would hide it.
Yes, you would hide it inside a barren nesting doll
you’ve had since you were a child. Its smile
reminds you of your father, who does not smile.
Nor does he believe you are his. “You look just like
your mother,” he says, “who looks just like a fire
of suspicious origin.” A body, I’ve read, can sustain
its own sick burning, its own hell, for hours.
It’s the mind. It’s the mind that cannot.

*

In Igboland

After plagues of red locusts
are unleashed by a jealous god
hell-bent on making a scene,
her way of saying hello or how dare you,
townspeople build her a mansion
of dirt, embedded with bone china,
decorated wall-to-wall with statues
made from clay farmed from anthills—
statues of tailors on their knees
hemming the pant legs of gods;
statues of diviners reading
sun-dried entrails cast onto cloths
made of cowhide; statues of babies
breaching, their mothers’ legs spread
wide toward the sky, as if in praise.

Sacrifices of goats and roosters
signal headway behind the fence
that hides the construction. A day is set.
Next spirit workers disrobe and race
to the fence, which they level, heap
into piles and set ablaze, so the offering
is first seen by firelight, not unlike
a beloved’s face over candlelight.
The West in me wants the mansion
to last. The African knows it cannot.
Every thing aspires to one
degradation or another. I want
to learn how to make something
holy, then walk away.

*

Unfurnished

Something was said and she felt
a certain way about said something.
—————————————–Certain only
because there was no mistaking the feeling
she felt—the sound empty makes inside
———–a vacant house.

*

Imagine Sisyphus Happy

Give me tonight to be inconsolable.
Give me just the duration of a good

night’s dream to wade in wreckage,
so the death drive does not declare

itself, so the moonlight does not convince
sunrise. I was born before sunrise—

when morning masquerades as night,
the temperature of blood, quivering

like a mouth in mourning. How do we
author our gentle birth, the height

we were—were we gods rolling stars across
a sundog sky, the same as scarabs?

We fell somewhere between god
and mineral, angel and animal,

translated the world into man. Then believed
a thing as sacred as the sun can rise

and fall like an ordinary beast. Deer sniff lifeless
fawn before leaving them, elephants

encircle the skulls and tusks of their dead—
none wanting to leave the bones behind,

none knowing their leave will lessen the loss.
But birds sometimes pluck their own

feathers, dogs can lick themselves to wound.
Allow me this luxury. Give me tonight

to cut and salt the open. Give me a shovel
to uproot the mandrake and listen

for its scream. Give me a hard face that toils
so closely with stone, it is itself

stone. I promise to enter the flesh again.
I promise to circle to ascend.

I promise to be happy tomorrow.

*

Even the Gods

Even the gods misuse the unfolding blue. Even the gods misread the windflower’s nod toward sunlight as consent to consume. Still, you envy the horse that draws their chariot. Bone of their bone. The wilting mash of air alone keeps you from scaling Olympus with gifts of dead or dying things dangling from your mouth—your breath, like the sea, inching away. It is rumored gods grow where the blood of a hanged man drips. You insist on being this man. The gods abuse your grace. Still, you’d rather live among the clear, cloudless white, enjoying what is left of their ambrosia. Who should be happy this time? Who brings cake to whom? Pray the gods do not misquote your covetous pulse for chaos, the black from which they were conceived. Even the eyes of gods must adjust to light. Even gods have gods.


Parmigianino. “Cupid Making His Arch” (Detail), c.1533–35


About the book

  • Ecco, 2017, 80 p. Goodreads
  • My rating: 3 stars
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