Existing as Defiance – Elizabeth Kohler

1. You creep through the sugary air

of the murky orchard

swallowing the wind

grinding fallen apples

under your marionette gait.

You plunge upward, into the attic

where I am trying to rest

among the dust and baubles

you pry me open

coaxing out nothing

breathing clammy on my neck

I am exorcising the demons from inside you,

can’t you hear them?

You growl and moan on my face

I become a patient

in a room with an ugly faucet

that never stops dripping

2. You slaughter a goat

tie its leg to the tree in front of the farmhouse

like a charm—I try to make light of all this

flick dishwater at your shirt

you throw a glass of water at my face

I could kill you too, you reassure me

I run through the meadow

trailing water and screams

fireflies floating like ash

take a leap, feel suspension

momentary release, then

the glint of your knife at your hip

you jerk me down by the ankles

drag me back to the kitchen

a thrashing rabbit

refusing to die

3. Every night I watch you take shape

as a mask over every face

that borrows my body.

You are my distrust

why I seek out men

who will ruin me

what makes crying and coming

synonymous in my body.

I can always count on you to be there,

sonorous and teething in the evening

bound for my mouth in sputters

I leave my partners feeling grim

4. God won’t undo anything

and I have to live with yourself

unraveling dresses

weaving shirts out of stinging nettles

for boys turned swans

who peck at me tenaciously

send me running

into the mud of another disgrace.

I heard you work at a Buddhist retreat

in the mountains of Colorado

sitting on a summit, serene lotus

one hand holding a polished stone

in the other, a bruised cervix.

I direct my bitterness to irrelevancies

and reminders, stupid beards

where you exist in every single one

all that sharp hair

a round child’s pout

behind a man’s hard face

5. I write letters from you to me

each time I hope it will be the time

for you to take this vacancy with you

with my chest clenched

my gut aching like a fist

in the parking lot

in the produce aisle

in the car

in the bed sheets, pinched like scabs

you appear as a tiny wrinkle

under my eye

6. Just to keep existing feels like defiance

it’s a radical wonder to participate in the world

when I’m all I have

to touch my friends gently on their shoulders

to let myself be shamelessly touched
to wait loudly, impatiently

like a new year

to unearth my dead body from the swamp

reach inside her

eviscerate the muck

find your teeth in it

sit with her in my arms

on the forest floor

in a copse of birch

murmuring to her

7. All day I strike with a maul

to be something’s necessary guide

to take up space

the way thunder does.

Each wood cracks like dawn

another day gunshots open

I split down the middle, laughing

as the sun spills through

I burn entire cords at a time

to feel a fire that could compare to this

Elizabeth Kohler works on farms and lives in coastal Maine.

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