Rhapsody in Bone

Rhapsody in Bone

Beneath the frozen fathoms of the sea,
a maiden’s body swells in rhapsody;
her father made her sustenance for fish
and creatures yet unseen by human eyes,
who feed until the carrion is spent.

The maiden’s bones roll over with the tide,
entwined with deep-sea coral colonies,
and where her eyes were, now are dwellings kept
by denizens who have no need of light
beneath the frozen fathoms of the sea.

Though water’s currents quell the dolphins’ calls,
the doleful cries her fecund corpse intones
uncoil the sodden hearts of others’ souls,
while hers, forsaken, flounders in the dark.
A maiden’s body belts a rhapsody,

because her father threw her from a cliff:
butt-hurt that she’d flat-out refused to stroke
his ego (teeny-peeny sack, he was,
of whims that changed as often as the winds),
her father made her sustenance for fish,

yet could not stop his daughter’s sunken bones
from breathing sirens’ cantos on the waves
and luring hunters to her icy grave—
that home to lonely spirits of the depths
and creatures yet unseen by human eyes!

A hunter plunks his line into the sea,
where deep below, a bony treasury
still bears the stench of murder’s milky dregs,
a tangy lunch for urchins clinging fast,
who feed until the carrion is spent.

Upon the swaying surf the hunter waits
with hero’s grit,’til suddenly, a lurch—
he’s hooked the skeleton woman’s rib! This catch
has heft suggesting banquets fit for kings,
who feed until the carrion is spent!

Oy veh! He hoists her bones onto his skiff
and shits his britches fearing he’s been cursed
by Death, herself, arisen from the depths—
her salt-worn bones a host for writhing eels,
and creatures yet unseen by human eyes!

Try as he may to toss her back, he finds
her long front teeth affixed—and can’t deny
this woman he’s revived deserves to live:
those naked, tangled limbs, her smooth, bald head…
Her father made her sustenance for fish,

yet could not stop his daughter’s sunken bones
from going viral with their exposés—
though water tries to quash the dolphins’ calls—
for songs of fuckhead fathers make us sick,
when maidens’ bodies swell in rhapsody!

Though many hunters know the songs of bones,
scarce few boast true cajones, fewer still
behold the face of Death with steadfast gaze,
and grow to love and keep all she became
beneath the frozen fathoms of the sea.

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

“Rhapsody in Bone” was first published in May 2017, in editor Nate Ragolia’s awesome journal, Boned: A Collection of Skeletal Writings, and was subsequently included in my chapbook, This Being Done.

Cephalopod

 

Cephalopod

I know how you tried to befuddle me
with that ten-legged head of yours—
 
how you thought you’d streak by
& ink me blind, but I see
 
how it is: I mean, once your penetrating-
obsidian eyes shone the ocean alive,
 
that cute little stunt of tucking back
your longest tentacles, as if you could

pass for being one of the girls, almost
like innocuous, trifling, bipedal me,
 
was glaringly obvious. I know your beak
was really poised from the start to strike—
 
to take my breath into your breath,
& crack open my sternum, & feast
 
on the still-thudding muscle inside me—
because motoring between my mere
 
two legs, primed to be torpedoed
with your mantle, until I tauten
 
like a caecum gorged on tiger prawns,
is the same jet-propulsion as yours
 
worked in reverse…

“Cephalopod” recently languished on a short list for an inordinate amount of time — poor guy — before ultimately being rejected, so I’ve just decided to share him! 

Painted Chickens

 

Painted Chickens

Twenty years ago
I received a birthday gift
from a close college buddy-slash-sometime lover
(What on earth were we thinking?).
Back then, our past was already in the past
& twenty-four was already not young.
He gave me a coffee mug
covered in chickens—

yes, painted chickens—

three plump specimens posed around the outside,
& one that looks like an index finger
with an eye, a comb, a beak, & a wattle,
slapped onto the bottom.

How, I can’t fathom,
but my friend knew that those chickens
with their orange-red, expressionistic bodies
would be a boat-floater for me—

the one time I had slept with him
had been an epic shipwreck,
with a silent drive to the airport in its wake;

on the way, we choked down pancakes,
& I stifled sobs in my coffee,
averting my eyes
from the helpless horror in his.
I then flew off into the wild, wide sky,
bewildered, drowning.

Somehow, for years to come,
his southern gentlemanly charms
still served to allure:
he kept his promise to write
& took pains to catalogue for me
the details of his worldly escapades
& various, accompanying sexual conquests,
always making sure to emphasize
the ways in which they were hot for him,
so as to prove those trysts’ relative rightness.

Then, years later, for my birthday,
came the unexplainably gratifying
chicken cup.

Still burning hot
& feathered in their chili-pepper red,
royal purple & verdant green cloaks,
my static & impossibly happy
aphrodisiac chickens
blush like lovers on a Grecian urn;
clucking, urgent.

My southern gent,
now so long ago flown from this callous coop,
wooed another & had his own brood,
as, in due course, did I,
but the mug, no worse for wear, remains
a spectacular feature—
like a bright birthday piñata
(with its promise of sweet reward)—
of my sacred morning ritual.

These chickens,
still ecstatically surprised,
letting out unabashed, open-beaked caterwauls,
adorn my most aged & prized coffee mug;

a vessel, perfectly-sized,
it cups its contents so adoringly,
fiercely,
like an egg enveloping its cache of gold,
as I take privileged sips.

The big chicken on the left
might actually be a rooster,

& that one on the bottom,
a middle finger.

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

“Painted Chickens” appears in my new chapbook, The Death’s-Head’s Testament, scheduled for release in March 2019. If you like what you’ve seen so far, please take advantage of Main Street Rag Publishing Company’s fantastic pre-order sales offer of $6.50 per copy while it lasts, and feel great about your generous support of this enormously grateful poet! 

Place your order HERE today! 

Letter from the Other Side of Halfway

Vision Board_GISH 2016
Letter from the Other Side of Halfway

Dear Bob: In one of my former incarnations
as a starving, family-less, twenty-something Grad
Student, well before the advent of emails & texting,
when handwritten sentiments on stationery were still
in vogue, I certainly sent my share of “Dear Bob Letters.”
The recipients thereof, on the whole a far cry from being
remotely “Bob-like,” included a number of real posers,
some of whom now strut & crow on Facebook like
the ancient, hoary roosters (read: cocks) they clearly are.
As for the others (more of them than you might imagine),
they’re all dead, several by their own hands, even—a stone-
cold statistic (the seeming synchronicity of which is tough
to ignore) I frequently grapple with, sorting through conjured,
a posteriori details & associated, surreal imagery by day, &
chasing after egotistical ghosts in my über-symbolic dreams
by night, always with the conviction that some message for me
yet lurks in the dry lakebeds & sunless recesses of the Nether,
a realm to which the tips of my toes & then some are no strangers.

The only window-treatment manning the threshold between
me & my secrets is a translucent-pink swath of chiffon,
which I’m afraid doesn’t leave much to the imagination—
so consider yourself warned, amico mio! Against the current
backdrop of imbecilic plutocrats, political sycophants,
& psychopaths bearing assault rifles, hardly to be tempered
by the incidental, decent soul, it would not take a discerning
eye long to know me better than I know myself, which is just
about the only thing I know anymore…

In my attempts to locate myself, I often look to nature—
these days, it’s among the imposing Sequoias we boast here
in the Northwest, along with the showy cottonwoods, as fertile
as they are indiscriminate, stripping off their seed-fluff every
chance they get, a prospect that doesn’t seem to bother
the scrub jays deigning to my level for a squawk now & then
before ascending to a higher branch. Whatever folks might say
about birds of a feather, well, after a number of earnest stints
shadowing the local hens—the way they kept those vibrant
petticoats tucked under their brown slickers, & their biting
commentary having seemed uniquely suited to the cold & rain—
I’ve yet to locate my flock, & the search has turned southeastward:
Taking a tip from the meadowlark, I veer for the high desert,
my flight path crossing the sagebrush-dotted, volcanic earth,
hoping I’ll soon look down & see you floating
in a sea of ten gallon hats, just beyond the convection
columns braced against the electric blue sky.

I don’t suppose your self-claimed exile looks anything
like I’ve imagined? It’s not with a small twinge of jealousy
that I seek consolation in your brand of solitude on the other
side of that horizon line; as exile, it would seem to me,
involves the condition of having at some point belonged
somewhere. Now, after a lifetime spent standing out in my field,
I’m not very handy at extrapolating any other kind of belonging,
& feel I ought to find out what I’ve been missing.

So, I’m heading out past the Cascades & the swaggering
sage grouses of the eastern uplands, reaching for that horizon—
green seeping to red, clouds feathering out, & no further from us
than one step beyond our any given station—where you can be
sure I’ll always be no more than a step away from you, & ever
your honest friend, Stephanie.

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

Western Meadowlark

“Letter from the Other Side of Halfway,” my response to Robert Okaji’s gorgeously soul-fortifying poem, “Letter to Harper from Halfway to the Horizon,” was first penned during the Tupelo Press 30/30 Project in May 2017, and subsequently published in Underfoot Poetry (thank you to editors/authors Daniel Paul Marshall and Tim Miller for generously hosting my work!) in July 2018. This piece also appears in my newest chapbook, The Death-Head’s Testament, NOW available for presale order (@ $6.50 per copy, a significant discount off the cover price!), scheduled for release in March 2019.

Poem Up at Formidable Woman

The fantabulous Robert Okaji and I have collaborated on this “found-prompt” poem, inspired by and ultimately published by editor D. Ellis Phelps! What a wonderfully rewarding poetic experience! 💖💖💖

O at the Edges

“Dead Rose at 5 Points Local,” a collaborative poem with Stephanie L. Harper, is live at Formidable Woman. Many thanks to d. ellis phelps for taking this piece, and for offering the prompt which set it in motion.

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