Saara Myrene Raappana
You can tell the source by its color
If eye-white Noxzema cotton swab
then moisture or a freshly burning thing
and if soup spoon gypsum raincloud key
then Frisbee Barbie Matchbox car
and if lake ice wrist veins Zoloft sky
then Marlboro pipe or steamroller
but if crude oil midnight fry-pan tire
then black fire steel char blindrun gone
What we steal from Kelly’s father
and from our handsy, stingy boyfriends,
we take behind the sauna. We pick, pack, giggle, hiss.
I hide what’s left inside my Care Bear’s head
so later I can light the snow-soaked tree
that bares its boughs inside me.
My mother at the sink ash-sizzle in the whiskey glass
My mother and the curtains drawn her dark and spinning room
My father midnight on the porch alone
his orange-red cherry visible to everyone
What seeps in or what escapes.
What I blow into a stuffed toilet paper tube,
go tiptoe to release. What seeps ventwise
to the visitation room to stroke
my mother’s wrist, her ash-dry hair
What tells me wind-direction
how quick how mad
What tells me –stop– before I turn the knob
What tells me –sure walk through that door
but only if you want to inhale fire–
WE CARVED OUR NAMES
what keeps dead stand from turning into deadfall is the root
that burrowed deep resists the squall beetles and rot
in wintertime Kelly and I would run into the woods with coats unzipped
to shake birch trunks and glut our throats on kifed communion wine
then heavy-lidded fall and press rough angels of ourselves into the snow
sometimes we ripped hand-me-down tees apart and braided them
we tied those bracelets to our bloodied wrists like sisterhood
we carved our names on trees that dead still stood
and wore our blood-wine teeth like dresses tight as bark
Kelly planted her feet on frozen lake and said
that red is hearts and lips and cherry gum
and if you look like something begging to be chewed
no one will see how firmly into hell you’ve grown
the news says rural epidemic but I don’t feel feverish
I feel like birch bark peeled away no matter where I live
each time I asked about the scars that seamed my mother’s wrists
she lied and said she’d toppled from a tree onto a nail in middle school
the part where gravity needs blood to let you fly is true enough
I’ll fly to Sichuan years from now but my dreams will still be lake
will still be home where I’m a driftwood log awash
and squinting through Superior’s skin into the undertow
at Mother and our grandma and our aunts their wounds rendered
immodest in the deep lake’s lapping and Kelly’s under water
laughing ankles braceletted with black rock
she’s implanted in the lakebed
branches of her hair outspread but
Kelly I’m sorry
I can’t stop floating away
AFTER THE FUNERAL, AUNT SALLY TELLS A STORY WE’VE NEVER HEARD BEFORE
She says the sheets, hung out, shook like hung sheets
and that the gun, set out, lay quiet as a gun.
My grandpa drank a gin fifth in the heat.
And Sally, just turned ten, hummed every single song
she knew. A sheet exists to fold and fold
again, a wife to fold her children to herself,
and gin to fold a man until he’s no
real man. My grandpa slid his pistol off the shelf
and tipped its open mouth against my granny’s mouth.
Her lips, pressed tight together, looked as red
and heavy as a movie kiss. When Gramps passed out,
Sal prayed the sheets would shield them when they fled.
The smoke Aunt Sally smokes today is closing on the bone,
and larks, like larks, call out a song that fans
like something clean and light across Gran’s marker stone.
Not one of us will speak of this again.
-from Chamber After Chamber, forthcoming in 2024 with the University of Massachusetts Press, selected by Assistant Editor, Karen Carr
Born and raised in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Saara Myrene Raappana served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in southern China before moving to Southwest Minnesota. Her first book, She wrote the chapbooks A Story of America Goes Walking (in collaboration with artist Rebekah Wilkins-Pepiton (Shechem Press, 2016) and Milk Tooth, Levee, Fever (Dancing Girl Press, 2015), and has published sundry poems in journals, anthologies, and very fancy paintings. She’s also worked in comparative international education, magazine editing, poetry film, and functional strength. She teaches composition and kettlebells (separately) and co-owns the very best gym, Restored Strength. She's received grants and scholarships from the Minnesota State Arts Board, the Southwest Minnesota Arts Council, and the Sewanee Writers' Conference. She likes ice fishing, train rides, reading poems to rooms full of strangers, and making up new names for imprecisely labelled birds.