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05-06-2019

Nickole Brown

Wild Thing

 

What I knew then was plastic packages

of ramen—instant, four for a dollar,

because with four eggs to match, I’d have myself

four dinners, provided I could keep the gas on

for the month and get that old stove lit

with a match. I also knew what went

at the store for a buck: pinto beans and sliced white,

popcorn, carrots, peas . . . even juice, long as it was

concentrated and frozen in a can.

But what I didn’t yet know was how

 

that word—buck—got started, back with

my daddy’s daddy’s daddy and on back

down the line, back when for their rheumy knees

men used panther oil brought all the way

up from Florida when panthers still lived

down there, back when men without a dime

to their name could pay land taxes in

skins and piled as many kills they could

on a wagon headed downtown

to sell deer for just that—for one dollar, one

 

buck, a pop. No, what I knew then were bucks

in my tip jar, how never to start the night empty

but to always put in a few of my own, otherwise

not a soul would think me worth a dollar

and would trash the whole shift

with the rattle of pocket change.

And though I couldn’t have said when deer season

hit, no one had to tell me

about the weather it brought, how cardboard

crammed between wind-rattled panes helped

but barely enough, how under every cover I owned

 

I’d sleep until the floor stung my feet

awake with cold. Once I got up and turned over

my car, I just might make it to work

on time, but not until I got stuck at a red light

with a man who split his two fingers apart

to make a V for the snake-flick of his fat

tongue, which meant something

about a good time before he gunned

his truck and gave me the full view

of what his flatbed towed—a whitetail

 

doe, one eye open but somehow more

milk or smoke or dirty dishwater than

eye, her tongue off its hinge, flopping

obscene with every bump down

 

that road. On my popping speakers, a new

version of that same old song—

now you don’t need that money

when you look like that, do ya honey

and it was then I knew the bullshit

made up for the endless misery to hit

 

these woods—all those floods that scrubbed

the babes from their burrows, lifting

their pink writhing to a flotsam of rot, or else

a rage of flames to force natural-born enemies

into those same holes, snakes peaceably

terrified alongside a scorched blister

of mice and frogs, turtles nearly cooked

in their own shells—

and hell if everybody didn’t always say

wild things could care for themselves and always knew

what to do: how to seek higher

ground and survive.

 

But really, believing that made me

just another fool in this world mistaking

the happiness of looking at a pretty, wild thing

 

with the happiness that thing feels.

 

Put another way, I was once young and terribly

pretty and gripped the wheel white, felt the rip

in the vinyl seat rub the part of my leg

raw where my skirt didn’t

cover. I shut off

my radio. In the silence was the talk of men I’d heard

all my life—their bumper-sticker gags

of show me your rack and chasing white

tail—all the old jokes—that buck not dead

but put down for his dirt nap and itching for a mount,

that doe not female but a slickhead, hot and ready

for the rut, all those not shot but taken in peak

season, in sweet, sweet November.

Put another way, I was almost on

empty, and though no one

believed it or cared to see, I was just another

animal, and like all animals

desired, we would suffer.

Self-Portrait as Land Snail

 

Don’t get me wrong.

I’m a modest girl, couldn’t even strip off

at one of those nudie hot springs out west,

the whole place a flotsam

of much-nursed areolas and buoyant

scrotums while I sat prim

as Gidget, legs crossed and awkwardly

smiling on the shore. It’s just that the snail

is on to something—neither boy nor girl

but both, the critter is nearly mythic—a true

hermaphrodite that all alone

will go to its own kind of cyrobank and baste

itself, make a new batch of not-so-bouncies

in thin, flea-sized shells. But no, that’s not

 

me. That seems lonely. Better, with another

intersex other it will take

aim, flex back its bow, shoot a dart,

then wait to be impaled

in return. I couldn’t make this shit up

if I tried—this is no metaphor

but scientific fact—a telum amoris—literally,

a weapon of love—a James-Bond-worthy arrow

equipped with four blades spiked

with all the dirty talk a snail

could want. Cupid’s got nothing on this

mollusk congress, and because you know

how snails go, the foreplay is slow—

slow, slow—my kind of sex—

 

going on and on until the hussy

who first received that dart has enough

and rises to fire back. Now, knowing this,

I can say I didn’t come out

all those years ago, whatever that means. No,

when I finally made a home

for my body in the bed of another

woman, I simply became

a land snail. Tired of being

a leaking receptacle for a man’s

desire, I needed to feel

an equal’s push against my own,

a willingness to be wounded and to

wound, receiving and giving at the same

time. Plainly said, I needed the kind of love

that finally let me take

my time; I needed to fire

an arrow of my damn own.

The Scat of It

 

The shit of it, the slick of it, the beetle’s tumbling joy,

the bear’s berry slush of it, the coyote’s ghost white

dry of it—undigested fur, nothing more, hot-pressed into a

turd—that nothing-wasted prayer. The shame

 

of it, even the dog shy, peering from behind a bush,

spine curved into the not-in-my-yard-sign; the teasing too,

me laughing about the anal express, the poor cat hissing

at the vet’s gloved hand. The dump and log

 

slop of it, a sad jaundiced yellow or something rich, a deposit

of iron, green nearly black, the color of a forest

never once cut, miraculously untouched.

 

Then too there’s the zoo—regular factories

of it: the chimp’s sling of it against his bars, and not too far

from him, swaying ceaselessly from side to side—the elephant—

how hers is shoveled up from the concrete floor and

hauled away. Down the road

 

it’s sweet meat for the pumpkin patch and hungry rows

of corn. And further on, in the dark of the barn, the halo of it

glows white around a chicken’s diddle warming next to her eggs.

The hen broods in, pays no mind to the much more tidy loo

 

kept by those few lucky pigs allowed to stand

and walk away from their bed to defecate outside, so different

from the lift-your-tail-and-go-where-you-stand kind—

that of the goat and sheep and rabbit—each pellet perfectly round,

a pile of dinky moons eclipsed, a mess of shining beads, a black rosary

 

undone, the prey animal take on it—look both ways and shit

quick, no dallying around.

 

The rice-sized mouse of it in the kitchen drawer, even smaller

is that of the roach, the cabinet scrubbed raw because mama says

such leavings are degrading, meant for the dirty and poor. In the water,

 

an ocean frolics with it, the seahorse trails it from a hole close to where

his babies burst from his chest—watch it frolic like a yellow streamer

before it breaks loose and floats. And up the river

 

the salmon rid themselves of what’s left of it, and with their load

lightened, eat no more. The satisfaction of it—the full-belly, the I-had-my-fill-

 

now-let-go, as in what the earth has given my cells have loved

to death and now give back what’s left, a cramp of thank you,

here is my offering, a stench maybe for us but for everything else

 

a bouquet of gratitude, a scattering that if you look close you can

track, at least until it’s finally buried again, whipping with

worms, churned in, folded back. There is no shame

 

in it, and if we are disgusted, we have not yet

learned—blessed is that from what we came, blessed

to what we return.

-All poems appear in To Those Who Were Our First Gods, Rattle, 2018

 

"Wild Thing" was first published in print by Talking River: A Literary Journal of Lewis-Clark State, "Self-Portrait as Land Snail" was first published in print by The Bellingham Review, andc"The Scat of It" was first published online by Thrush Poetry Journal at http://www.thrushpoetryjournal.com/november-2018-nickole-brown.html

Prompt: As in Nickole Brown's "The Scat of It," write a poem about something...unsavory. Have. Fun. Without fun, there is no poetry.

Bio: NICKOLE BROWN received her MFA from the Vermont College, studied literature at Oxford University, and was the editorial assistant for the late Hunter S. Thompson. She worked at Sarabande Books for ten years. Her first collection, Sister, a novel-in-poems, was first published in 2007 by Red Hen Press and a new edition was reissued by Sibling Rivalry Press in 2018. Her second book, a biography-in-poems called Fanny Says, came out from BOA Editions in 2015 and won the Weatherford Award for Appalachian Poetry. The audio book of that collection came out in 2017. Her poems have, among other places, appeared in The New York Times, The Oxford American, Poetry International, Gulf Coast, and The Best American Poetry 2017. She has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Kentucky Foundation for Women, and the Kentucky Arts Council. She was an Assistant Professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock for four years until she gave up her beloved time in the classroom in hope of writing full time. Currently, she is the Editor for the Marie Alexander Poetry Series and has taught at a number of places, including the Sewanee School of Letters MFA Program, the Great Smokies Writing Program at UNCA, Poets House, the Poetry Center at Smith College, the Palm Beach Poetry Festival, the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, and the Hindman Settlement School. She lives with her wife, poet Jessica Jacobs, in Asheville, North Carolina, where she periodically volunteers at four different animal sanctuaries.