the rivers of it, abridged

New York City skyline at night




Gabrielle LeMay


After rushing through voices
and sterilized rivers
to get to you,

I find you all alone,
laid flat in a small room,
grieving for your own wild

voice that never lied;
but there’s nothing I can do,
no way to hack through

the jungle of your terror,
as darkness like blood
spreads out around you

and you roll your gaze upward,
close your eyes and die
as if your flames had never happened—

though my whole shrieking forest
is now burnt to the ground
and in your place is sky


Trapped on hell’s runway,
every day I’m on my cell
begging for news that the wildfires
have not yet reached my house—its livid
ghosts who scar all they pass through,
its hallelujah brushfire of roses hissing
damply on the stucco—brittle beards
of palm trees shushing overhead
like the harridan who raised me:

       (the wolf in the bed;
       the grandmother at the door)…

The family kitchen’s an abattoir:
its scorched-earth dooryard’s a wizening croft
of ash and dead hearts, planted in winter
by ill-fated crash-test true believers—paths
of chopped glass through the parsley garden—

       What would Alice do?
       Which bite to take?

I am no Alice.
Like the truth, I’m not pretty;
some people say I look mean enough
to run down a squirrel
on purpose (crushed
red form; crime of no name)—

but what they don’t know
is that I’m gentle as a child
and that I’d choose to use a gun
every time.

It’s a whole-body thing, this embrace
of a gun: the furious aim, trigger pad tingling—
long, cold barrel a shock on the palm—
the contrary duckling
trembling in the crosshairs, naked
on the tarmac of memory…

Once, I fled eastward the length of Fire Island,
then fell to my knees beneath a star-studded cast-iron
apron of sky—seized by inspiration, stunned by vision:
Everything that kills us, Sylvia, feels like hell.

          (But I lost my sense of terror there;
          knew at once that I must run
          not from but straight toward
          what I most fear…)

Welcome to the forest of my head—
that halfway house for everything I know.
It’s dark, but you won’t get lost in here:
I leave shredded, flaming
paper trails everywhere I go.



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