Rachel Contreni Flynn
She won’t let him finish the task at hand.
He’s whittling a log into the statue of a woman
who in the end will either stand up or lie down.
She’s not prepared to see herself as a house
for rodents and insects, much less to watch
him carve the crotch of her into a sturdy curve.
She inspects the nicks on his hands, and they look
like the bites of an animal–angry, afraid, impassioned–
she watches his face as he rubs oil into the wood.
It is too much and not enough. She stands, but finds
herself unable to become someone better than this.
She must never let him finish the rubbing and digging
and gouging. The light is very flat in the room. He
is whittling, and it is like killing. She cannot let him
complete her, and finish off this happiness.
In the rectory, moments before my parents marry,
I arrive, a woman a decade older than they, asking
if they know my face, knowing I must allow them
to do this thing. I wear a stiff black cloth around
my head as if in mourning. My father thinks he sees
his sister, his mother, but my mother shoos me away–
crazy lady in a death veil. I must permit this to continue,
because I must become myself. The flowers are wax,
the lighting bad. I tell them You will be happy and they are
proper, obedient, in their sweet youth. They will damage
each other, even while making each of us. My father
will crumple against the white closet in our old house,
crying, and I will begin to hate my life as I haul his face
into my hands that look like his sister’s, his mother’s,
and make assurances, though I’m 15 and know nothing.
I’ve been given a heart on a flimsy chain
by an eager man. I’m sick of receiving
the tiny holes, the dangling organs.
Fresh bamboo and cocktails, appetizers:
tiny gourds stuffed with chilled seafood.
The heathens with the educations get drunk
from feeling so poor, yet so above it all.
They’re not sure what matters, suddenly,
but they imagine the ghost of Tennyson
at the edge of the tent, trying to trip the host.
Yes, the light is low. Fury gives way
to petty observations, calculations.
The heathens are tired and irrelevant.
Rachel Contreni Flynn‘s second full-length collection, Tongue, won the Benjamin Saltman Award and is forthcoming from Red Hen Press, and her chapbook, Haywire, is forthcoming from Bright Hill Press. Her first book, Ice, Mouth, Song, was published in 2005 by Tupelo Press, after winning the Dorset Prize. She was awarded a Fellowship from the NEA in 2007. Her work has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and she received an Illinois Arts Council Artists Fellowship in 2005. She is a graduate of the Warren Wilson College MFA Program and lives north of Chicago with her husband and two children.
“In late, thick August, on the wide porch of our old brick house in a tiny town in Indiana, my sister and I would sit with a bushel of fresh corn, shucking and peeling and picking. The porch was cool, shaded all day, and we could sit against the nearly chilly brick wall. Over our heads, a beveled bull’s-eye, lead-paned window caught bits of light and sent prisms across the porch floor, our corn-sticky hands, our bug-bitten legs. Doing this simple, old work, we were quiet, which was truly unusual. Strands of cornsilk floated down the steps and across the yard and parched immediately in the scorching heat, but we were cool and very young and quiet and together.”