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Bethany Pope - Three Poems

Bethany Pope


I can't give you much, you understand;
just the substance of my flesh,
 small siftings
of bone, and a handful of words.
 In the end
all you'll have are words; strung
 like beads, hung
into stories taken and remade
other people's songs. And that's
believe me. We're none of us
our own. So I will give you
 stories —
Achilles, Persephone, Anansi's
woven, tangled webs — and you
 will shape them
as you will and hold each bauble
 to your eye
to see, through that hollow
 (holy) lens,
the shape of the world as it
 truly is,
in all its fragmentary, borrowed
and so that trouble (when it
 comes to you,
as it must) will feel familiar
 and therefore
mappable, surpassable, and you
(my son, my flesh, my substance)
 will know
the path that winds right through
 it, and your feet,
when they stumble (as they must)
 will find
their own errors and not recreate
 my own.


You grew the beard because I'd
 bet you
that you couldn't. You let it
 sprawl out
as far as it would go, then
 you asked
me how to trim it down, closer
 to your jaw.
We did it in Tasha's dorm room,
 while she
sat propped up in bed with her
of the moment, blankets drawn
 up to cover
their chests. I'd never seen
 you naked,
never seen
 man naked (women
were another matter) and you
 were swathed
in that long robe you had, the
 plush one
which hung down to the middle
 of your thighs.
It was belted in the middle
 and the shape
of the thing, combined with
 the Grecian arch
of your nose and the honey-dark
of your hair (flowing from a
 centre part)
made me think of Baccus. Certainly,
the oil-sweet scent of the skin
 of your nape
left me drunk. I wavered, a
gripping my shears as the shape
 of your face
emerged, slightly changed, and
 your wet-slate eyes
lapped at something hidden in
 me. I ran
two fingers down from your cheek-bones,
 and said
three almost negligible words.
 You grinned
like a knife sliding through
 silk, and ran
down the stairs and into your
 room. I burned,
frozen where I was, utterly
left my friend to her fumbling.
 When I arrived,
angry, on our hall I paused
 outside your door.
I could hear a voice, throbbing
 through the wood,
a song from decades before we
 were born,
'She loves me, yeah, yeah, yeah.
 She loves me'


I had a dream, the other night,
the dog that died when I was
He was a dalmatian, with an
broad head, more like a lab's,
 and flattened teeth
from a puppyhood spent chewing
 on rocks.
I used to take him out into
 the yard
and spend hours chucking tennis
 balls towards
the far chain-link fence, until
 he tired
and fell asleep, limbs akimbo,
(gaped into a loose, dull-toothed
 grin) pressed
against my thigh. When my parents
they took their dogs, but sent
 mine away
to live with a cousin in Kentucky.
While he was there, his spine
 gave out. He came
home, over the summer with his
 hind legs
dragging. In the dream, I'd
 opened the door
of our old house. In real life,
 the kitchen
caught fire and burnt it out
 into a husk.
In the dream, it was exactly
 as I
remembered. The same urine smell,
 the same
almost visible miasma of fear.
My mom's dog, and my brother's,
 were alive
again, and in full health. The
 youth they'd lost,
as everything does, had fully
and I was glad to see them.
 But I went
looking for my dog, because
 seeing them
wasn't nearly enough. As I moved
the house, signs of fire bloomed
 like dark mould
across the walls and the stench
 of spent
smoke crept up with it. I found
 my dog
in the ruins of my old bedroom,
 he was
crouched on the mattress I spread
 on the floor.
His face was swollen, skin split
 with cancer,
and these poisonous cells had
 rotted his nose
so that the gaping hole wept
 like a
syphilitic sore. But oh, he
 was so
happy to see me. In real life,
 I had
to go in to the vet's back office
I sat on the floor while his
stiffened and his urine went
 cold. Afterwards,
there was a potluck at my father's
and there could be no tears
 from me. His work,
the image he'd made, could not
 allow my grief.
In the dream, there was no one
 else. I had
to get my father's .22 from
the upstairs closet and keep
 the muzzle pressed,
hard, to that wide skull. When
 I woke up,
I was exactly as tired as always.
I am so sick of this dream,
 and of
this history. I keep carrying
 the load
around with me. I'd like to
 put it down.

copyright © Bethany Pope, 2020

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