A dress the color of empire

A clutching in the cave of your octopus.
Those soft slurps, graceful and un-nerved
go awry. Flagellate. In darkness the felt
bodies, unknown and inside, tumescent again.

I wore a dress the color of empire. Camels,
and a man riding something; what. He scrutinized
my breast and I felt empire squeeze that squatting
colony inside what I call ‘me’—the things

we didn’t say about my green dress—we were
happy, after all. Occasions call for whatnot, save it
for bus rides and standing in queues. Even my watery-
eyed friend couldn’t say if he wore one.

It may have been sailing out behind him as he rode
a horse or a—? Pattern so dense. And something that,
alive as I am, must be ‘regret.’ See the snap, here,
I said and splayed, pale as a wedding, fresh

from convulsing, it is covered in fabric; the snap
and its snap. The press stud and its popper.
For everything useful, a name, though even he
couldn’t say what it was; he, with his surgical

tentacles, and me, a forest of stealth. Deep
in my density, dark and glistening as gills,
out of mind so nearest to gone, perhaps—
but look, just look at the light on that castle.

My Immortality

If you’re asking
does it hurt my feelings—
the gulls all shrieking “me” & me
stuck here in my nest, shivering,
flightless, & wrapped in plastic,
throat open wide for your vom—
mew, kee-ow, ha-ha-ha-ha!
Now hush. My heart
is a secret that everyone keeps—
flapping & crashing around
in its cage. My heart
like an app, shakes its fist
at the sky. It burps! Hiccups!
Gasps. It’s a bad
drummer. Worse: it’s an app
that rates people. The only
plan: “swipe right.”
I am open for your leftovers.
Insults, they bob
like proverbial flotsam.
I’ll take it. I’ll take it
like I took your giant cookie,
stole it right out your lap
saran-wrapped & stuck
with a big price tag,
that day you had lunch on the pier.
I gulped that shit down whole.
Deal with it later & if
that means one more
seabird’s unautopsied gut
packed solid, sealed & unyielding
so be it:
my gut’s half-life
will be my immortality.

The Experiential Guo

Do we think it’s the middle of our lives?
When I learned about “the experiential guo,”
which is, you know, a verb tense but also
what my parenting coach might call
“being-with,” might call “present,” or
“in the moment”—was I, in fact, experiencing it?
Is thinking, “be here now” the same as wishing
one were somewhere else? Innocuous
or insidious, self-betterment, or self-absorption,
marketing or marketing?
Who condones single-stated-ness? Who
wants to multitask, really—who among us,
out of necessity, isn’t a mad-maned mother digesting
her own body on the clock, larvally engaged
in pretend with the wolf-child and pupae-fied
with the goddamned present, because tedious
inertia, because real and imagined
multiplicity of fearfulness,
because bitterness and grief? Get out
and stay out? I said, with a little upward lilt
at the end, and it meant less
than nothing, meant domesticity,
which meant tame but felt feral, meant
that goes for you, too, awful ongoing-ness
of internalized exceptionalism, to say nothing
of the overt variety cocooning like, isn’t the present
just the past again? How can life be linear?
Progress is the great lie of my species; every question
an aggression. When I was out, a feeling
of regret consumed me, and like the dumbest
cliché I saw their faces, crying eat me, spit on me
with your sick. Home is elusive, but not worrisome,
they said, and the exquisite, fetal
punctuation of my body replied, Home
is gestural, my loves, I am gesturing
right now.

Powers

Do you know what is the most powerful
thing in the world? Only a child boldly
and assuredly responds, while cheese
congeals in his untouched quesadilla.
Shark power. King of the dinosaurs.
Fire power. It comes out your hand.

Faint little fox in the northern sky,
your brightest light is three grandmothers
ago. Who believes in you now? “The Secret
Lives of Stars” is boring and too scary
at the same time. It takes a long time
for a star to die and in a beautiful
many-colored ring its powers congeal
as they leave. Now it is small and dead.
A child is sobbing, Vulpecula, Vulpecula,
so the mother says, you will be dead
way before our star. Every little disaster.
The mother’s empathy shoots out her hand
but it’s the wrong strong. Little fox,
you have stick powers. You’re lava man.
You have a shield pillow. You’re half-batman
half-hulksmash half-wolf. You are!

The sun has set, now. The sun will implode.
And I am a fossil filled with stardust—ancient
power, real as myth. So powerless. I am
your mother. A fox is a fox. The quesadilla
has turned to stone, and this 8 ½ minutes
is the longest 8 ½ minutes; the king
of the dinosaurs told me so.

Therianthropy

Boys like Peter aren’t afraid of wolves. —Sergei Prokofiev

If I were a skin-walker
very agile,
very strong—

if I shapeshifted,
shared anatomies—

if an old she-wolf
with a skyblue mane
found a baby,
nursed him
once upon a time—

Once upon a time
my parents, gone—
my grandfather, cold—

if we share a soul,
my wolf and I—
our tail trembling
between our legs—
at night our teeth shift
& grow purposeful
toward what end
toward what—

O to carry
the collective hatred
& fear of anotherkind—

O to hold it all I say O
four times to kill it—

& no rounding of my lips,
no low moan of childhood
can hold it—

O of lonely, of union, of sorrow, of joy

O open-faced youth
O eyes molten and golden
O fat cattle lowing while I starve
O forest deep and dark

O sumptuous dreams & night terrors
O absorb the pain of the world!

O ecosystem
O ring around a dying caribou
O give him space, give him space to die!

If we share a soul,
my wolf and I—
our tail trembling
between our legs—
at night our teeth shift
& grow purposeful
toward what end
what end
toward what what?

To be deeply human
is to leave humanness

& be animal. Animal
is what deeply human
is.

Can I say O four times
to kill it—
my otherkin—
kill the phantom claws
or fangs

If we share a soul,
my wolf and I—
our tail trembling
between our legs—
at night our teeth shift
& grow purposeful
toward what end
what end what
what what end.

Ellen Welcker

Ellen Welcker's book RAM HANDS is just out from Scablands Books, & recent work is in Okey-Panky, Pinwheel, & Matter Monthly. She was awarded a 2016 Washington State GAP grant for her manuscript in progress, The Pink Tablet, part of which will be published by Fact Simile Books in 2017. She lives in Spokane, WA, & works on literary events locally & nationally.

Cover image by Sarah Meadows

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