Iceland’s July is all days. The sky never dims
below a milky grey. Days of blue
mussels served on slabs of polished slate, tourist-
tiny rotten shark cubes chased with birch sap cocktails.
In wool sweaters, black sand grouting our boot soles,
we leave our rented apartment for the grocery store.
Slopes and winking dots float above vowels, an accessorized
and uncanny alphabet. Bog-brown lamb’s heads
wrapped in cellophane, speckled puffin eggs, cod
livers in tins, thin dried puddles of fish, like dehydrated ghosts.
Strolling through the aisles, we adjust. The carts smaller,
the bottles of coke smaller, but the same familiar blast
of rotisserie chicken, familiar florescent lights
blanching skin, familiar sugars and fats
stacked by the cash, goading our impulse control.
We bicker our favourite bicker over the relative
nutritional merits of broccoli versus kale versus bean sprout,
agree we both married an idiot, then fill our basket
with farfalle, leeks, smoked salmon, passive soft
cheese. Our food beeps. We pay and leave.
The air tastes sulfurous, the island too young to insulate
all that heat we know, but often forget, is boiling
beneath our feet. We discuss our plans for the evening:
the food, the dishes, and then Dream Wife,
an all-girl band we will scream along to for the next decade.
Casseroles, or, Delicacy in Small Town America
Stunned mourners crowd the kitchen, bearing
casseroles dense with salt and fat and childhood
dreams. Green beans suspended in cream
of mushroom soup. Yams smashed and studded
with pastel marshmallows. Pork goulash, meatballs,
cheesy broccoli. Bread crumbs browned, onions
crisp. You eat together in booze-leavened
near silence. Your mind stumbles through half-
remembered rituals. Long ago, in Ireland, a sin eater
unburdened the departed soul by supping on bread
newly risen on the corpse’s chest, yeast
replacing those last breaths. Or, no, maybe in Hungary
everyone shared the loaf, perhaps sweetened
with dried plums or ginger, absorbing not the faults
but the social grace or humility of the deceased?
The food wouldn’t have mattered to him.
He saw no difference between a hotdog
stuffed crust pizza and a lobster
and caviar puff and a smoothie rough
with chalky powders. Eating the simplest
way to stay alive, not as it is for you, a spell
summoning scratchy sweaters, the smell of stone
and fire, late November aimlessness – and now
this loss added to that soft blur. Somehow
the day ends. A plate of congealed scoops
wrapped in plastic left at his place. Guests
given souvenirs, shortbread biscuits speckled
with caraway seeds as dark as the beard
trimmings you grumbled over every morning
when you found them scattered in the sink.
after Delmore Schwartz
I’m not a sloppily stoppered howl,
not a bear in heat trampling ferns for a world of candy
and rage sex. No, I paid someone to siphon the venom
from my ovaries, to destink my pits. The doctor assured me
it was routine surgery, just a few clean snips
to guarantee I won’t be tempted to devour
my young. It’s over. It’s so over. It’s been over
seven years since that animal-ectomy.
But I’m still haunted by the beast I might have become.
Sometimes, I dream of potent dung, of crashing
with pure terror through the slippery and scorn-
fueled city. I dream of feathery antennae combing the air
for mates, of tentacles surging from my chest.
I dream I’m a sheep degrading myself for pellets, an all-knees lamb
falling slickly out of me. I awake screaming,
a hand pressed between my legs.
I chase those musky women who rejected the doctor’s advice,
those who never tamped down their ribbits
and warbles, those with tails and stench and an endless amoral hunger,
those who will drag their tumorous bodies into the desert
to die. I sit next to them at parties. I want to feel my skin
scraping off on their rough tongues. I want to suckle, to be stung.
I corner them and jabber praise. They ignore me,
but I can’t stop myself.
—From CNQ 99, the Film Issue (Spring 2017)