02-05-2015

 

Kathryn Nuernberger

Ichthyphobia

Two of the bad girls from the neighborhood got drunk,
climbed the fence into the Botanical Garden
to skinny dip, and drowned.

My brother said the koi pulled them down.
Their funerals were closed casket because of what

the fish did to their faces.

This was at the pond with a zigzag bridge where
my brother gave a push and said not to cry,
to be such a pussy.

The zigzag prevents evil spirits from giving chase.
Evil spirits like the kappa, who is the size
of a ten-year-old boy.

Sometimes he sucks the flesh of a girl -
her shoulder, her wrist - a nip. And sometimes
he sucks her whole life

out with heaving breaths. Don't believe? Play a game
of pull-finger with the face swimming in the water
and just see

if he doesn't drag you in. For a quarter we could feed
the koi bread crumbs, which is how they'd grown
to the size of possums.

I threw the pieces quickly and looked away
from the clamor of fleshy pink yawns jostled
by waves and slick bodies,

but still felt the fish set upon my skin, mouths everywhere,
dark water closing in. If the kappa has stolen your daughter,
there is little to do.


But if she is your precious daughter, your only one,
try carving her name into a Yubari melon. The kappa may
make the trade,

or he may keep both fruits. According to Freud,
the child who wishes to join society must repress
the memory of infancy's

unfettered genitals. The kappa never forgot.
When he comes, your only chance is to bow and bow.
He cannot resist your manners,

even though the crown of his head is an indented bowl,
even though he knows it's the clear broth of his brain
spilling into that cold, dark water and its gathering fish.


U.S. EPA REG. NO. 524-474

Gene-splicing the beetle-resistant Basillus
Thuringiensis with a potato sounds surgical,
but it's just a matter of firing a .22 shell
dipped in DNA solution at the stem
straggling out from the russet eye. If you're lucky
the hybrid sticks. Have you seen what can be
done with tobacco and fireflies?
Just for the hell of it, whole Virginian fields
now glow under the passing planes.
Salmon-tomatoes clutch their fishy gloss against
the pinch of frost. I think I'll give it a try.
I have the gun you gave me. You said
I'd feel better if I held it awhile. I feel better,
and I'm not giving it back. I'm firing shrimp
into pigeons and dipping the de-veined crescents
of their wings in cocktail sauce. Thinking of you,
I made peppermint termites to sweeten
the swarm, and layrinxed the rats with mockingbird
calls. I shot scorpion tails into the fighting
fish, and now I've made a bullet of me to blast
into your amber eye. Will you come out simpering
like a girl? Eager to perform your vulnerabilities?
Will you recoil at the site of a baited hook? Or will I
pass right through imploding flowers of viscera
without having scratched a rung on your double helix?
I'd wager you could arch each disaffected synapse
without even noticing me careening through
about to hybridize the brick at the other side
of your exit wound. Give a stone a language
chromosome and it'll run with words like water.
It'll announce in spray-painted letters that it hearts
you, that it can't live without you. That it would
rip out its own mortar just to think you might
take a concrete crumb to jingle in your empty pocket
as you remember what I used to be.


The Ragged Edge

In 1963 and again in 2001 a scientist attached
a monkey's head to another monkey's body
one blood vessel at a time.

When you get right down to it, the lab assistant
says, nothing could be simpler.

The disembodied brain runs on the machine
of a decapitated trunk, and if you say

the word awe doesn't come to mind,
you're a liar.

What was it like? For the monkeys no one can say.
The severed nerves hang loose,
resulting in near total paralysis.

But the mouth could still bite the hand
that tried to adjust a tube running into its flared nostrils.
And it did. Which was evidence of a tremendous success -

one sign of life is the defense
of whatever body you have left.

A primatologist finally caught on video
a family of chimps swinging in ritualized arcs
over a great waterfall.

Her voice wavers in the background as she narrates,
"Apparently lost in contemplation,
the chimpanzee cries out, runs excitedly back and forth
and drums on trees with its fists.
Here we see the dawn of awe and wonder."

Human rituals tend to involve putting things together
or taking them apart.

In church I learned that through sacramental sex
(married, blessed, sanctioned), you see the face of God.
Another thing I learned was the body is a vessel
for sin - try to forget you have one.

Once upon a time a severed head
was knitted to a ragged neck and the only
pictures are in black and white.

You can't help but recoil, to use the words horror
or vulgarity. It's not unlike staring at pornography -

what you see is never quite what you wanted.
The doctor's shadow obscures the stitched line
where you thought you'd see how one became the other.

                

-from Rag and Bone

 

BIO: Kathryn Nuernberger teaches writing and literature at University of Central Missouri, Warrensburg, where she also serves as poetry editor for the journal Pleiades. She is the author of Rag & Bone, a collection of poems that draws its title from "Rag and Bone Man," an old word for junk collector. The poems in this collection appeared widely in literary magazines, and the collection won the Antivenom prize from Elixir Press. She is now working on a new collection, tentatively titled Strange Cases, which focuses on oddities and marvels from the history of science. She has received fellowships to support this work from The American Antiquarian Society and The Bakken Museum of Electricity in Life. Kathryn lives on a defunct farm outside of Warrensburg with her husband, who is hard at work building beehives and planting blueberry bushes, and their daughter, who herds the chickens.