When our dog was in heat my mother would yell at us
about her blood getting all over the house, claiming
their hormones were synchronized. We would chase her
around & put her in my brother’s old Underoos. One
of us left to spot clean the green shag carpet. He always
seemed sad about this, not that we ruined his discarded
underwear, or cut a hole out of the back for her tail, or
that we put a bulky pad in the lining where his balls
once felt secure–but the tethering of him to her period
somehow, embarrassed him. No one ever talked to us
about our bodies. The summer she got pregnant
they took us to Woods Hole to adopt a whale.
That same year we purchased stars & named them after
ourselves. I remember thinking it a strange thing to buy
gifts we were never able to touch. The volunteer
who filled out my Certificate of Adoption told me
a blue whale’s heart weighs 400lbs when it’s not beating,
but everything is an approximation. We are unable
to weigh the human heart while it still works in our chest.
No one is talking about the Mississippi flowing
backward, the swell of delta and what will be left
of the graves below sea-level, buried above ground.
In the pine barrens boys load machetes on their backs
and set-off each morning to hunt the rabbit that infest
the high cane of industrial sugar plantations. For food.
Their mother, still pregnant for no other reason than urge
not her own. And beneath an underpass on Cahuenga a man
sweeps a carpet that reads WELCOME in frilly script, the same
mat on my mother’s door-step. It breaches an invisible doorway
a mattress on a wooden frame, an orderly hutch filled
with porcelain figures of children playing cards.
There are no barriers to contort our viewing. Just pictures
of families hanging off the cement. In the latest series
of repeating nightmares, I watch as women from all corners
of my past raise my daughter, shuffle her from place
to place. In each near miss, I feel the smooth skin of her palm
and the small callus on her fourth finger where she rests
her pencil. Her delighted laughter repeats like the bleat
of sheep awaiting slaughter in the slow heat of a metal silo
in May. My mind chases her hollow sound through tunnels
tubed in late sun, washed out into blinding unutterable god-light.
The Children Throw A Funeral
Out back by the pool, the children throw a funeral
for Grandmother. They set up chairs in neat rows
with an aisle cut clear through the center. My daughter
wears a black veil, a vampire queen costume she saves
for birthday parties, my beige patent heels, gaudy
gold hoops, and a plush crystal ball around her neck.
I can’t remember buying it. They are solemn, but not
sad, as if they understand the gravity of this kind
of event. Neither has ever been to a funeral. My son
carries our dead cat ashes in two smooth wooden boxes,
both palms up, like an offering. Down, down the long
aisle he marches until he reaches an altar of sticks,
dusty leaves, a sixteen-inch LEGO figure of baby Yoda
that took a week to make, is missing his feet, and has
a dream catcher strung around his neck which they
light on fire and wave over the boxes like a censer.
I watch from the window, they laugh hysterically,
a bead melts onto one of Yoda’s fingers. Later,
we talk about spreading the cat’s ashes before we
leave California. Everyone starts to cry. We’ve now
had the ashes longer than we had the cats. How
many ways can we be made to say goodbye.
Kate Sweeney is pursuing an MFA at Bennington College. She has poems most recently appearing or forthcoming from Northwest Review, Muzzle Magazine, Birdcoat Quarterly & other places. Kate has a chapbook, The Oranges Will Still Grow Without Us [Ethel 2022]. She lives in New York.