THE YOUNG MAN
He has not yet killed
the chicken in his father,
that soft Spanish
rising and falling
in the monotony of Sunday.
He sits with the elders,
behind his beautiful sister.
Her hair falls in curls
down her back.
The number five—cinco—
has been mentioned.
The young man remains mute
as if he never been born
into such a family.
May will come.
There will be tacos, mole,
grilled corn, and margaritas.
Each member of the family
will get drunk
for different reasons,
none of them exact or true.
If not the Puebla victory—
over French Goliath,
then a mistaken date—
that of Mexico’s Independence Day,
which falls in September.
The young man gazes
through rain-stained windows
of the restaurant. The hills
umber and dun, the inevitable
path leading up
to a small settlement
of clapboard houses.
Neat enough, though
voices penetrate the walls
at all hours, and where else
does a dog resemble a coyote?
“The girl had vanished, but on the ground
beside the altar lay a deer…”
-from Iphigenia at Tauris
I’ve watched her eat clover, stems dangling
from her loose lips.
Mouth pulling at the earth
as if it were a teat.
Nuzzling summer earth, stopping
to scratch a flank
with the most delicate leg.
Inhaling hydrangeas and dahlias,
quaking aspen leaves, and apples.
She must have been hungry
when she went to her death.
Willingly, it is said, she agreed to pay
her father’s price.
On behalf of the oracle
our parched grounds flower with weeds.
A daughter must be fed
no matter what the cost.
April. Scents of flowering plum.
Every wad a flower,
each note a ghost come to remind you
of the viola, its lower register.
You want to know why he tried you
with his guilt so many times in restaurants,
and you wouldn’t listen, as if it were
a set of flageolets turned loose
from his mouth, the eerie taste
of his Winnipeg past, his frostbitten ear
oscillating with frequency, order, wave.
To hear the human voice—
an overtone driven to become a boarder
of the mind after passing—his, others,
you need to place your finger exactly
on a fretless neck. Press down,
reach higher or lower until you find
the way to have it both ways: the fundamental
and its octave hurtling once more
into the world as father and daughter,
neither knowing how to pierce the other’s armor.
We hear the pups
triggered by a siren.
It’s the sound of a screaming woman.
It’s the sound of a murder.
Again, when the sirens go off,
the four of them howl.
Discomfited, I return to you.
I think you will not come back.
I think you up in clothes worn
inside the mustard-dusk of cities
where some bank notes
must have been left behind.
Is it the dirt road, dust flying
when a car comes along,
dropping its speed? Is it the need
for solitude, the lack of quiet?
How to dog the sun
into an array of prisms,
to christen time like a ship in dry dock,
bottle-whacking the figurehead,
a coyote woman carved from eucalyptus
mooning with her breasts
that incessant hunger
men have for milk and killing.
Judith Skillman’s new collection is House of Burnt Offerings from Pleasure Boat Studio. Her work has appeared in Tampa Review, Prairie Schooner, FIELD, The Iowa Review, Poetry, The Southern Review, Midwest Quarterly Review, New Poets of the American West, and other journals and anthologies. Skillman is the recipient of grants from the Academy of American Poets, Washington State Arts Commission, The Centrum Foundation, and other organizations. She taught in the field of humanities for twenty-five years, and has collaboratively translated poems from Italian, Portuguese, and French.