BLOOM Kristy Bowen
dancing girl press & studio, 2020 _________________of 100
Who knows what blooms inside the body. Inside the ribcage and its rack of bones. At home, I corner myself into my life. Make soup. Fit perfectly, like a cardboard puzzle. Pick fuzz off the sheets all day and stare at the mirror. Who knows what blooms at the bottom of the fridge. The nudge that sends us off the cliff flailing. All spring, I go in and out of rooms that I destroy, then tidy. Hide the wreckage beneath the rug. This tug inside the body where the heart blooms about the size of a palm or a gun. What fun when we broke the body bit by bit, limb by limb, until there was nothing left but a sliver of bone I used to fold this poem for you. A tiny tooth I use to bite.
In February, I successfully carve the baby from the Mardi Gras cake with a plastic knife. Such smugness in the way I deliver the child, upright, onto my paper plate. Such aplomb. There in the middle of a staff meeting. A tiny god swimming in sugar and flour. We haven't yet learned to wash our hands on the hour. To keep them at carefully at our sides. February, and I still touch everything. Door handles, the backs of chairs. Still reach across strangers to pull the cord politely on the bus. Who knows what blooms in us, what rooms unfold within our lungs. In other cities, other countries, they are drowning in the white sheets of hospital beds. A man on the news harbors his sisterâ€™s body for days. What does it mean? My certainty? My contagion? The space I place so carefully between me and bad luck. February, I tuck the baby in my desk drawer. I eat my cake, then lick the fork clean.
Slowly, then all at once, like a ship, we lock down every hold. Flocks bust against the side of the building all spring while we huddle inside. My best season, my fluttering jewel. The bird that hit the windows again and again and still wanted his own reflection. I put on dresses, I take them off. A monday becomes another monday. Another frantic panic. I wear what I call my apocalypse sweater to take out the trash. I hang it near the door and wash my hands in the sink so much they bloom pink and chap. I wear my apocalypse sweater, then take it off. Hold my breath in the elevator. But under it I am rose hewn and soft as a petal, my pretty mouth open and ripe for infection.
Two weeks before quarantine, we meet a couple in the suburbs and I want to fuck the husband badly. Threesomes, foursomes, we all want some. Who knows what blooms in the back of my head, between my thighs. The shift in the brain toward that dark water like blood. In the fall, a bad hotel in Hammond, I kissed a girl hard on the mouth. Felt her teeth scrape across my neck and shivered. Who knows what the body craves in times like these. Where the mind and fingers wander. Longer, still, the moment between breaths, between days we pull like laces from a corset. How we tie it up again and go out into the world, holding everything inside that wants to come loose. The contagion that wants close spaces and bodies in proximity to other bodies. The poisoned breath that moves in and out.
The internet tells me one morning that dolphins swim the Venice canals and I've no choice but to believe in them. Their slick purpose, backs sluiced with sunlight. Flamingos flock in Indian streets, thick, black cows languishing luxurious on beaches in the south of France. A coyote in the middle of the Mag Mile mid-day. But really, the canals were rising every year, seeping onto the boards of rotting docks while the lovers kissed under bridges. The internet tells me the waters in Italy are crystal clear, all that sediment settling beneath the city. Strangers kiss each other on the cheek and the grandmothers nap on shaded porches. We've convinced ourselves nothing can go so wrong here. Nothing we canâ€™t quite see the bottom of.
The magnolia trees still bloom behind the bus stop. Still fall apart early in April, scattering the concrete in front of the catholic school. By then, I've given up on spring, Batten the hatches and wrap my fear in chenille blankets and morning omelettes. Scan the news and drink cup after cup of sticky sweet coffee. It's a terror, but a comfy sort of terror. With muffins. I stuff fear to the back of the closet with winter coats. Float in the bathtub, wide eyed, at the ceiling. Who knew the apocalypse could be so cozy? So teaming with contagion and my own tiny paper tigers. let one by one out of cages? One disaster movie after another playing out in my dreams where the pipes bleed and water sprouts from all the sockets. Listening for locks turning in the hall to hide from my neighbors. I'd say I'm not right, but never really was. Building my house out of cardboard and scotch tape to stop the rot that blooms by summer and drops to the ground.
Lilacs bloom from the hands of a girl in the park. From the burst of green between concrete and rebar. From the cloud of scent I longed to throw my body into all last summer and the summer before. Any other summer, and be I'd be writing love letters. I'd be burning off winter from my skin and glistening beneath the arbor trees. Listening to Stevie Nicks and dreaming about witches. Any other summer and I'd be waiting here moon-drunk and drowsy. Ready to bite cherries right off their stems. My lips that have touched other lips than yours. My hands their hands, my body pressed against them in some strange twinning. This summer, I am as untouched as a pear browning in the icebox. Soft and round, but cool to the touch.
A body takes to other bodies like it takes to water. When I was five, I stood in the Atlantic and let the earth move under me. That drop in the stomach between what we feel and see to be real. The keel of gravity and motion sickness. Still, we careen into each other in bars. In the subway. Our fingers lingering on the necks of strangers. Trailing along their hips. How to know what we touch in any given day, or what touches us. What we shed in the evening--eyelash, hair, epidermis-- comes back each morning. How to know where my hands have been when they have been everywhere. This body that collects other bodies in its crevices and nooks. The hooks that string us together like fish on a line.
Nothing is on fire, yet everything is on fire. The playground at my elementary school burns to the ground, a pile of twisted plastic by dawn, a badly scorched tire swing. The boys still die, are dying now, beneath the boots of wife-beating cops, beneath the world that wants to eat them. I feel I have nothing to say that doesn't sound so white. So bright and caustic. The bad poem I wrote over two decades ago about a boy under a red, red, tree is still the same poem I write now. Still the same body of a boy where blood blooms on his t-shirt and down he falls. We call out to the boys down the street and they wave back, but we never reach them in time.
During the quarantine, I can't write a poem. Can't right the ship without the cold water flooding in. All day long, I jump at noises in the hall. Sirens on the street. Realized I've prepared for every end but this. Fire, flood, zombies. An enormous monster that rises from the lake. Stocked box on box of pasta tidy in the pantry. For every disaster, I can give you a dozen end scenarios, each one more dire than the last. But none of which I'm really prepared for, A friend tells me she's stockpiling Tylenol PMs and an axe in case things get bad. Three large bags of rice. I focus on sweet red peppers the size of a heart. Larger in my hand each time I reach for one in the fridge. I scatter seeds across the tile to the trash, where theyâ€™re scavenged by the cats and dragged across the rug. I wait for them to bloom into vines thick enough to climb out of the world and onto dry land. For words to come with every sigh of the knife slicing through to the hollow center.
What blooms in the streets, blooms in the back yards. In rooms broken and overrun with mice. What blooms in the heart, blooms in the fists. Blooms violet and rage-red over a woman's forearm. In July, there are no tomatoes. By August, they are rotting on the vine. We take our time with summer, though it grows fat with spiders outside the windows. Who knows what blooms along the fences. Under the rocks and mulch of overturned gardens. My neighbors had grapes, but their grapes were full of spiders. The dark that blooms in the bedroom closets where the daughters hide, file in one by one in their nightgowns that bloom tiny roses in a field of white.
Who knows what blooms at the back of the throat. In the voice box. In the breath. The scientists swab and measure. Summer undoes us in every usual way. By day, I walk the neighborhood. Note the crap apples, the azalea bush on the corner. How it all seems to be happening, though I am not happening within it. A couple blocks over, the lake swells and churns with little audience, emptied of its boats. Perfect weather for mirages. For drownings. The thing we were swimming for that we never quite reach.
The ear infection I kicked before Christmas comes back in the spring. My voice down the well and my head stuffed with cotton. All season I am plagued by bits of vertigo, then nothing. As if dropping off into open space for a few moments, then landing with a thud on something soft but of indeterminate origin. Something vast, but completely unmappable. Echo accompanies me to the mailbox. When I sing in the shower. When I speak to the cats, but in failing French. To strangers in the elevator, blinking my eyes in morse code. We're all going down, so might as well make the best of it. Might as well dig in and set sail. Sound floats like a ship somewhere in the lake where we've taken on water without noticing. Our drowning slow, but comfortable, and of indeterminate origin.
Itâ€™s July and the trees near the bus stop are full of wasps. The library re-opened, littered with husks of roaches flat on their backs. We sweep up the bodies, place them napkin-wrapped in the trash. Any other year and I'd be knee deep in the lake. Knee deep in honey-like summer. Full of crickets and sleeping through the night. Summer was a fury of cicadas and spiders the size of my palm outside the third floor windows. Lightning bugs in a jar, flies on the windowsill. The detritus we've left behind-- coffee lid, leaky pen, loose button-- littering the desktops tucked tight in their cubicles. Another summer left undone, and the building would surely begin to crumble. The pipes grown mossy and the rats scurrying the stacks. Another year and the architecture no longer remembers us, no longer recalls our names. Coyotes knock the books from the shelves and thick black crows roost in the reading room.
What blooms where the dirt has been poisoned? In grad school, I write a poem about the flowers on the field of Gettysburg. Lush and beautiful from all that carnage. Scientists say blood does nothing but bleed. It was the ammunition, blowing up the spores and seeds lost for millennia deep underground. Nothing to do with blood, but everything with fire. Each tiny seed locked tight in its capsule and suddenly topside with a flash. Who knew what was underground. In the forest, in the body. The internet tells me a new species of bacteria was found frozen in a long dead mammoth. Yet still, it can flick its tail and survive.