Laura Jo Hess is from St. Louis, Missouri. After writing grammar textbooks in Chicago for two years, she moved to New York to pursue an MFA at The New School. Her work has been published in Margie Review, The 2River View, Blue Mesa Review, and Little Anthology by Argos Books.
I spent the afternoon with a bough of vines between
my fingers, plucking green pricks from the stem. I am
a creature of practicality. It is evening of the last day
& you took your time finding the doorway, the place
you’d let your mouth go, the archway where you first
left me. I found you at a church in Florence.
You were dusting your boots in the pew, balancing
a notebook on your wavering thigh; I stood
before the poet’s grave with a gauze kimono
wrapped lightly over my skin. Perhaps they saw
the curve of my nose? The slight hesitation
as I ducked inside the church? How I missed
the horned Moses in Rome, but stood stiff-kneed
by the Lady Venus. How I found a bench beneath
the swollen sun and watched the holy trickle out.
I sipped tea with my legs crossed, breathed hard
the heat of a struggling city. I watched a man
juggle coins in his fist, eyes pleading for more silver.
Near the Duomo, a gaggle of tourists studied
the golden doors: Isaac fearful at the hands of his
father. You sat three stools over, molding a cloud
in ink. I, a dreamer, slouched low in my sweater and
sought a cage for my sin—a myth is a myth is a myth.
You: I saw you through the windowpane.
Me: What thoughts gnaw your insides?
You: I should have known you grew
towards the light, you flowering bud.
But the city where we met is paved with the poet’s
face—crisp outlines of the man who warned me.
Haven’t you always loved? Didn’t you swear
by my joints? My lips? You glanced eyes
with another, a stiff-tongued harlot with a steel gaze.
You were thirsty, and she stood near: here, lad
(a wink) a sip to whet your palate. And thus the
question—how does flesh interact with spirit?
You fought in sunlight, in dusk, shaking your fist at
the yellow sky. You slept alone on a hard mattress
a pillow cradling your cheek. Later, I found you
motionless in a field, your body cold like death.
Love, a cry from a mangled human caught beneath
a tree. Love, a capsule between the hands, a moment
to find and forget. Love, there is no rest here,
just violent winds, a gale—take me now.
You bow your head: I forgot you momentarily.
Me: I found you limping through the forest.
You: Suppose I hadn’t fled. But dead the tree
where we read poetry; dead the fence where we lay,
the dainty cobblestone where we danced. Dead the
blood we used to paint shapes with crimson force.
Father, forgive me, I have sinned.
I stumbled lop-sided to the fountain edge & wet
my face with cool silver. Why is it always night
where we look for moments? Why darkness
that brings out the demons?
This was the first city I missed, the only land to
betray me. Dante, a mirage, dips his toes in water,
Lust, he whispers, is only the beginning.
Child, he shakes, retreat.
But I am not Athena of thought, Medusa of stone.
I am not a woman you remember.
But might you recognize the landscape where you
sinned? I’ve reconstructed it from marble,
a plush valley for you to lay your head. I take
a moment watching flimsy dandelions bloom
between your toes. It was she who let me pass
through the gates, a boat beneath my body.
Beatrice, I ask, are you yourself a soul?
But you took too much, indulged your mouth
and body. This is a city of slush, of dirty water,
an icy wasteland where you wither. And I, too,
howl, Mother, Mother, my soul’s on fire.
I call to you, hoarders and wasters, bully drums
of another world. Perhaps you bent at the knees,
gazing into a river; perhaps you loved the fluid
image, the parted lips & eyes of murky blue.
Choke back and breathe the mist of contradiction—
why ravage? why gather? The water won’t pity you;
the gold in your pockets will further you
unto death. Adeline, tell us how the water flows.
So I, for a long time, slept in the day, a bobbing
head in the afternoon. I’d sit with a hot mug
in daytime heat while the tourists shouted: Look!
A table in the middle of the street!
A bookstore where Faulkner lived! A desk where he
scrawled his notes! Take note of the quality
of the southern light, a shadow cast in grey upon
the porch. But everything relates to everything else:
the thunder comes so rain falls sideways. A sad lizard
shimmies up the table leg; he puffs his throat in fear.
I spent hours memorizing the highways & the alleys;
I painted the room purple and laid down
under the ceiling fan. I envisioned you pressing ivory
keys while I sat humming in the living room.
How far does sound travel? At what speed?
Have you a heart that devises, an estuary for your
body’s work? Now, you’ve wasted your breath.
Beneath the muddy shore, a man grasps for air,
and you, a warrior, twang onwards.
A colored quilt sews what you cannot say: this
was a terrible meal. A crested and long-beaked bird
dances sure-footed on the underside of the window
ledge. You guffaw at his lop-sided movements,
a hum to the heart of the underworld.
All around us, things meld: A desk chair
sat lonesome in a field, silver into green. A lizard
inched ledge by dark ledge. Spiders with round
bodies found a home on my foot, my shoulder. I
brushed them off, their stubborn feet cling to cloth.
But I dreamt you once in a wooden house
overlooking plush hills & a field of sunflowers.
Rows of books lined the walls: Baldwin, Derrida,
Nabokov. You stood in the doorway in knit socks
with a teacup between your palms. You watched as I
sipped dark liquid from a ceramic mug and wheezed.
You put your hand to my neck, transferring me
breath through your fingertips. I said, with slight air,
you brought another girl here? You bowed your head
and whispered, I never loved anyone else.
So I took your head in my lap, parted your hair
in curls. But you, a griever, wanted more.
While your brother bathed in the river, splashing
dots upon his skin; you were on the sand wishing
a wave into his face, his sweet small body washed
away. You were jealous of the lamb’s skull jeweled
with beads; jealous of the desert mirage, the palm
tree, thick thighs you were born without.
I watched you take the sheep through the pasture,
nodding as the mammals grazed. You woke
with wire over your eyes, a grid of iron to weep
through. I thought your face beautiful in silver.
But was this not your castle cove? The place you
raised high on rafters, reaching your wrists
into the molten sky? It was the evening of the last day
when I found you first in a hallway, white cotton
grazing pallid skin. Next, in a bedroom, a body cast
upon the sheet. Then, finally, bent into two, weeping.