2013 Pangaea Prize Winner

Caitlin Scarano

Caitlin Scarano is originally from southern Virginia but now lives in interior Alaska, where she is a poet in the University of Alaska Fairbanks MFA program and editor-in-chief of Permafrost. Click here to read an interview with Caitlin Scarano

Praise
Tell me about it if it’s something human.
Let me into your grief.
–Robert Frost

to the rocking chair my maternal grandmother
lurches breastfeeding porcelain dolls. To her
husband’s collection of tobacco pipes, polished
smooth as his tongue. Praise to such a forked
man. Living within the walls of their angers,
I blossomed. My mother, coral canary
on the shoulder of slack eyed men. My older
sister kissing the swastika tattoo on a sallow
boy’s bicep, beautifully bent as she scoops
up her belongings from the snow year after year.
On our mother’s kitchen table, my little sister
crushed cochineals. Every lover she dyed
a rattled carmine until the man that cracked
her womb like a tumid pecan. Now she wields
a cast-iron skillet over his head: You better
kill me before I kill you. I know no metaphor
to protect or alter. An ashtray swiping a freckled
forehead, a hammer opening my paternal
grandmother’s skull like sunlight on a peony
pulsing with ants.

Losing It

God came to me like a drunken man
running from a car accident. God came

at me with a mouth full of snow, blood
& broken teeth. I used to be alone.

I used to wake up without an arm across my neck.
No boys or gods licking the sole of my shoe

or testing the rope ladder hooked in my lower lip.
Sinning is storytelling –

you always look them in the eye. Your body
always betrays you. God came to me

like the accident itself. No, he came at me like the tree
that parted the car, or the girl that parted

the windshield. The only car accident I was ever in
was the night I lost my virginity in the backseat.

God wasn’t there.
Just a frightened, frightened boy.

 

What My Grandmother Didn’t Say

Pray to the one that cuts you off at the knees.
The one that wicks you to a need.
I mistook the lion for a lark. Married
the schoolboy busy yanking other girls’ braids.

In each generation a girl started to burn.
Witch child ringing his dreams.
Kittenish schoolgirl tugging at the zipper
of his mouth. Unsealing a horror, our history.

Grandchild, you’ll know him nightmare.
Feel him fingering the waistline of a doll.
His mouth sealed against your own.
No one will be allowed to speak.

He finger folded daughters to paper dolls.
Tongue traced granddaughters’ tender jaws.
Your mother didn’t speak to him, but wrote a letter
of blood pinched from her eyes. What never saw.

O, birdcage wire my jaw. Tongue black
while he dies under a church pew. Leave him there.
Forgive every daughter to pinch to pulp his eyes.
Cut him well above the knees. Pray for a son.

 

Death sniffing at me yes like a dog jamming its snout in my crotch*

Last night I asked you if you’d live
forever if given the chance. I might

do it for a little while. Infinity, like death,
doesn’t work that way. I lord it over you,

that I have known more people to die. Virginia
reeks of it – my grandfather aortaless, my college friend

shot in the side of the face, another rolling off
the windshield of an SUV into a Richmond ditch.

When we were sixteen, my best friend hit
a big white dog with her car. It was August, night.

We pulled over and ran to it. His body stiffened
in parts – neck, spine, legs, paws. He lifted his tail

and shat on himself. My friend turned away crying,
but I looked that dog in the eye as if he’d spoken.

A few months ago, the car accident that killed the driver
left her boyfriend in a coma, his brain pushing

out an opening they cut in his skull. I stopped
calling her. Death might be nothing – an August

nightsky soaked in light pollution, a Virginia back road,
some littered ditch. It might be a dog, a big white dog

always about to say what he never says.

*After a line from C.K. Williams

 

My Dangling Eyes

Last night, I pulled you
through the bowels of it.
Told you not to deny me.
Asked, where do you want me?
On top. I leaned back, bore
my fingers into the loam
of your abdomen.
Ghosts (I’ve named them: father,
grandfather) raking my hair.
Licking the lazurite stones
of my spine. You
said, Turn over. Like a fish,
like a man looking away,
like grace. You said
do this thing and I did. Open-
mouthed against the mattress,
slavering the winter
sheets. My dangling
eyes. I could not locate
your face for all the bedroom
dark. You were a cistern
of rainwater. I was a winding
staircase, newel & balustrade.
Smoothed and rounded
by you. When we came,
I cried blood. I tasted
rosehip. Outside the moon
would not meet my eye.

 

Death and My Grandmother Talking Over Tea

He sets the kettle, handles the china.
Lemon flavored with a touch
of milk.

Summer light, tinged green around the edges
of its face, sinks
through an open window screen.

She holds the spoon he’s given her,
but makes no move to stir the tea
steaming half-finished coils

of speech. She used to have
tea sets. Nice blouses, azaleas,
a parlor. Whole collections of items

and honor. She tries to tell him that
as a girl she’d eat lemons whole. She’d peel
& pluck the sections into her mouth

as if they were oranges slices.
Her grandchildren loved hearing this
anecdote about her and he uncrosses

his legs to lean forward. He touches
her bruised hand and whispers, I know.
I know.

 

Church Dress

Little girls observe disaster from a tower of smiles. –Wislawa Szymborska

A bit of lace slip
winking from under my Salvation

Army church dress. Watercolor floral, boxy
shoulder pads. My grandmother & great aunt,

smelling of lemon cookies and wet
cat food, respectively, dragged me

and my freckled sisters to that altar.
While our mother dozed in her tomato

garden, and our father knit cross
necklaces out of shoestrings in a Florida

prison cell. Behind that altar a cherry
velvet curtain concealed the tub where Reverend

Land (he smelled like warm mayonnaise)
dunked each of us under in turn.

So eight years later, when a preacher’s son
I was trying to fuck asked me

if I’d been saved, I could moan Yes.

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