Excerpts from Alexandra Dillard’s poetry manuscript, How We Tend To Fragile Things, a finalist for the 2015 TS Book Prize.
When my grandmother skinned us rabbits she did not know we were her grandchildren. Our blood ran thick when she threw us into a stack of needles instead of one of hay. Next to my sisters we found bags of black cats tied closed with tight knots. I remembered the luck in my foot in time to feel betrayed.
WE HAVE NOT SPOKEN IN YEARS BUT
Every time I see a bag of garbage in the median of a wide road I believe there is a body inside. What is in the bag is never human. But one day it will be and I will call and say: “Hello, we have not spoken in years, but I need to tell you that my greatest fear has come true.” You will know exactly what this means. You will say: “No. It’s not me, but I am sorry anyway.”
I am told about aborted kittens the day I shop for dead moths in the mall. Brown paper sacks fill with paper wings. I lose a few pairs that crush in the bottom creases of the bags.
My car drives itself backwards over the bellies of mother cats. I am a moth with broken wings like all the rest. They are crushed at the bottoms of brown paper bags with the others.
The day before the neighbors’ kittens died, I shopped for dead moths in the mall until I became one myself.
I reach in my denim shirt pocket and pull out a cigarette-sized box. It is cigarette-sized but not cigarettes because I quit smoking for good last week. When I open the box I feel nostalgia. Not because there are great memories of cigarettes or cigarette-sized items, but because the reaching and the opening are familiar actions. My arms and fingers and pockets miss my smoking much more than my lungs or you or I do. The box is now in my palm. I say, hey look at this, and I open it. Inside there are twelve tiny Labradors. The dogs are rolled up and sleeping. I tell you to open the box I left in your flannel shirt pocket this morning. You feel unobservant for not noticing the box until now, because you’ve been wearing that shirt all day. You reach for your flannel pocket box and open it. Together we pull out two-dozen Labradors from our denim and flannel pocket boxes. We set them in the grass and watch them grow to full size. Our dogs run circles around us and beyond us. They come back because they are loyal and tired. They climb back into their boxes to rest. We say goodnight, see you tomorrow. We hang our shirts up carefully so we do not disturb their sleep.
This house is also a restaurant. There is a cat under an armchair eating a rodent. When I pick up the cat the rat hangs from her mouth. I ask you to take our photograph. You move us through the rooms and we pose in each. Some rooms are house and some rooms are restaurant. I remember the rat and find it stuck in my hair. I let go of the cat but the rat stays. My eyes shut and you move your finger in a pattern on my forehead. I feel you spell I’m sorry on my skin like you are tracing it from nothing.
SO LONG AS
When I heard of your marriage I kissed your neck and plotted your divorce. When I quit dancing for the weather I began looking for no one specific and nothing at all. When I realized that to be part of a sequence there needs to be a division of wholes, I made my scissors ready. And when I left you for the fireworks I understood you were just the fire.
I throw frozen bananas I throw roasted pumpkin I throw rotten cantaloupe I throw leaking grapefruit I throw a vase of lilies into the trees beyond my back porch. I catch a moth in my fist and throw him into air. I tell him good luck. You tell me if he were meant to live he would not have been built so fragile. You lift me and throw me. I feast on bananas pumpkin cantaloupe grapefruit and lilies.
SO I DID TOO
Death followed her so I did too. He cut her hair and I wore her clothes. When Death lit her cigarettes I mixed her drinks. And once when he got us confused, he picked flowers from my back instead.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alexandra Dillard is from Memphis, Tennessee, where she happily lives with two cats. She is intrigued by the logic of dreams, and how that logic carries into waking life. She is drawn to the aesthetics of words on a page, and enjoys creating pieces that combine image and text genres. Alexandra is a graduate of Hendrix College, and her poem “Fishing” appeared in the twelfth issue of Caketrain.
There is a certain air of mobility about a prose poem, like they are made for pockets of those who will keep them safe. These selected poems are from the collection How We Tend To Fragile Things, which explores ideas and feelings of tenderness, distance, anonymity, safety, restlessness, dreams, wilderness, home.