In the Coal Dark
On the edge of town, brick tenements rise
impoverished monoliths at the end of the world
Grackles gather concrete stoops beneath them,
as night guards
dodging shadows, in the spaces between,
laden clotheslines, burdened with a day’s labor,
empty their ghosts onto the grassy floor,
Jakebrakes chug the wet curve of asphalt
between the cemetery and the pool hall
Here, the music is cherry-bright, neon blue,
here, we close our eyes, sway dizzy
A wild daffodil opens the mouth of the pit-head
Vanity run amok in the moonlight,
the hermaphrodidic bulb of perfect self-containment
from an ugly lump, a tumor in the ground,
comes as flickering Indian cross
all day, the study of sound. whir of fricative.
bi-labio- might be a kiss, “m,” mother,
where labio-dental bites, “v,” vampire.
ever constant consonant
sonorous, your voice fills my ears.
in the stubbly cornfield behind our apartment, i say tuh, tuh, tuh, teeth
“t” is a voiceless alveolar stop
i tuck into my pockets
plastic tiger, stripes missing a
cat’s eye, a comet, a bumbo
faded metal car
broken false teeth
on a dare, i scramble into our dumpster
palmsweaty, unvoiced fear tied with pink cords,
coke bottle vase
glasses without lenses
with an unwound wire hanger, i fish through sour and soil
i disappear in sound of wide sky wind and whisper
until sibilant, “s,” slice, the sibilant blade of the tongue
blade slices me
bi-labial, “b,” blood
She didn’t ask stupid questions like, what does it mean, and he loved her for that. He didn’t ask, how did you get this way, become wounded deer? She loved the fawn in him, the dapple. He saw her dark fur, the fiddlehead fern of her head tipped to ink. He wound around her, and matched her bite for bite. She did not tell him where to place his commas or how to form a question mark, and in return he did not demand her favorite number be 9 instead of 5. Rather, he blessed her love of numbers. Pieces of her scattered along the forest trail only made him love her more, only beckoned, did not frighten. Pieces of him she gathered, tucked into tiny pockets sewn inside her skin.
A member of the Chickasaw Nation, Melanie grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma. After working for her tribe as a writer in the multimedia department, Melanie moved to Denver, where she teaches for Lighthouse Writers Workshop, supporting their outreach efforts, leading creative writing workshops in transitional rehabilitation facilities. Most recently, Melanie was awarded The James Welch Prize by Poetry Northwest. She is an associate editor for the literary and art journal, Inverted Syntax. Her poems, “DownRiver” and “Above Ground,” are forthcoming in Infinite Constellations: Speculating Us, out of The University of Alabama Press, in 2023. Melanie is proud to carry on the artistic traditions of her family and to nurture them in her three children.