A.E. Stallings Three Poems
Deep in the wood where things escape their names,
Her childish arm draped round the fawn’s soft neck
(Her diffidence, its skittishness in check,
Merged in the anonymity that tames),
She knits her brow, but nothing now reclaims
The syllables that meant herself. Ah well,
She need not answer to the grown-up beck
And call, the rote-learned lessons, scolds and blames
Of girlhood, sentences to parse and gloss;
She’s un-twinned from the likeness in the glass.
Yet in the dark ellipsis she can tell,
She’s certain, that her name begins with “L”—
Liza, Lacie? Alias, alas,
A lass alike alone and at a loss.
Her body like a pomegranate torn
Wide open, somehow bears what must be born,
The irony where a stranger small enough
To bed down in the ox-tongue-polished trough
Erupts into the world and breaks the spell
Of the ancient, numbered hours with his yell.
Now her breasts ache and weep and soak her shirt
Whenever she hears his hunger or his hurt;
She can’t change water into wine; instead
She fashions sweet milk out of her own blood.
My mother fell for beauty,
Although it was another species,
Ox-eyed, dew-lapped, groomed for sacrifice.
She had to devise another self
To put her self in—something inhuman
Or beauty could not possess her—
(O daedal mechanics!)
She grew huge with hybridity,
Rumor-ripened. I was born
To be amazed.
She fascinated me with cat’s cradles,
Spun threads out of my hirsute
Hair shirt. I was fed
On raw youths and maidens,
When all I wanted was the cud of clover.
I was named after my step-
Father, dispenser of judgment,
No one called me my mother’s son.
Minotaur, they said, O Minotaur,
You are unnatural, grotesque.
A hero will come to slay you, a hero
Who jilts princesses on desert islands.
It is heroic to slay, to break a heart,
To solve the archaic puzzle in the basement,
De-monster the darkness.
I await this patiently, as I bow to the yoke
Of making, scratching this earliest of inscriptions
On a potsherd, down here in the midden,
Writing left to right, then right
To left, as a broken beast furrows a field.
Three poems first published in Like
Farrar, Straus and Giroux (September 25, 2018).