Matron of No
There are so many paintings of Lucretia
stabbing herself and they’re all
pretty terrific. My personal favorites
are the ones where she looks bored (Rembrandt,
Parmigianino, Sellaer, Cranach
the Elder) like she’s just sticking
a casual reminder
between her tits that life is suffering,
and a certain quota of daily blood
is needed for a decant into that ancient
ceremonial chalice of feminine shame. Drip
drip. Reclining on a sofa in the mid-century style
I allow a stranger’s black and white boy cat
with bright pink rubber caps on all its claws
and a clipped tail to knead a soft space, this shelf
of fat above my organs. It feels invasive
but not unpleasant, a therapy
taken in foggy discomfort.
Caught in my phone’s own beam
is my greasy face, which, downturned,
admires the Expressionist skyscraper
proposed but never built
by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
for Berlin’s Friedrichstraße, its points
pointing at an overgrowth in me,
my finger hovering over the street,
no vehicles below, no people,
the black smudge of city movement
implying by erasure
those who move through
its striated, dynamic soot.
And what of the top? A blade garden.
Full of women seeking aesthetic revenge.
I think I might like to go away.
I think I might like to bond
with the darkest stuff, revisit the peeling corner
that exists in almost every room,
and is exquisite artwork that nobody looks at—
to sit with it awhile until a feeling of lateral
motion takes over, a whisk
into a syncretion of senses
from different legendary themes.
And now the cat is on the dining room table
licking goat cheese from an earthenware bowl.
The big windows let the night in on a timer.
The room does its thing to me again.
“Your lips / your eyes.” That gentle shuffle
of petals across the brain.
On this day I have chosen place.
On this day with the sun and the wimpy field,
I eye a patch in the middle of the square
where the dry brown grass has not yet intruded.
The approach is nearly painless.
One foot, then the other, and so on,
until some might say I’m there.
A woman I’ve met many times waves
from the sidewalk in front of the bank,
but I do not wave. I remove my shoes,
though it seems someone else is doing this for me.
The transition from motion to motionlessness
is about release and alignment.
I think of the small circular movements of my pelvis,
the clenching of my hamstrings,
a twitch in my eyelid,
as the smallest deaths,
dissipating, winding down towards
the possibility of stillness, levitating it
like a yellow marble
behind my eye.
A predatory bird circles overhead
and a small round door
opens at the bottom of each of my heels.
Two metal screws emerge to begin
their deep descent into the earth below.
If you’re wondering whether this hurts, it does.
And next there’s this impenetrable enclosure
(picture a bulletproof aquarium, a cube)
it builds slowly around my body, filling
with a clear and wonderful liquid
that smells of paper and lavender and glue.
Another native bird with a red head
sticks its tiny pink tongue
into a pinecone in a nearby tree.
People begin to run towards me, shouting
from the periphery. This only accelerates
a process. I am not a man
on a horse. I am not a man with a sword.
I didn’t put out any fires. The tide of resin
has reached my “widow’s peak,” which my first child
called my “little dark mountain,” and will soon
encapsulate me. It’s all very exciting.
If you worry about my breathing, don’t.
Monuments breathe only pure movement
and glance. On this day I have chosen place.
This day with the sun and the wimpy field,
among idiots and liars and grotesque snobs,
and what I did and what I did not do.
And I say to this place, get used to me.
I have nothing left that didn’t come from you.
A New Sound
Oh it was morning and
the city broke,
and along the edges of its fissures
grew a soft, feltlike substance.
Somehow, too, it was a sound.
Not one I could hear, but one I knew was there,
like the drone bookending a breath
and the full plushness of pause
combining into tone.
—much like grass waves, but not quite. This is as close
as I can come without harming an idea of it—
protecting the painful parts
of the city’s fresh wounds
from the harshness of the air.
Many citizens were collecting scrapings
in glass tubes, some were smelling it
or rubbing it into their skin.
Lucy, across the deep divide
that now ran through the square,
claimed it had demonic properties.
To me, it felt kind and fresh,
and I noticed a new lightness in people
as they spoke to each other about it
and what it was
and what it would do.
I bent down,
recorded it on my device,
heavy and silver in my right hand.
I touched it with my left
—the one with the swelling around the smallest nail,
caused by repeated picking at the site,
an anxious habit I’d quarantined to one finger—
and some of the sound came off
on the crepe material of my dress.
Bluish smear of soft filings
heralding the unknown,
a prelude buried in its texture.
I returned home, taking the longest route
along a new northeast crevice.
The sun seemed closer than usual.
Light tumbled down buildings
—how we love in the Capitol
is often, I thought, determined
by vectors, ratios, scarcity,
fumes, colors, pockets of air.
I may not even see “you,”
“you” whom I may come to love
and do not yet know,
if how we spend our pay,
if how we make our wages,
is not predetermined to be connected,
and the points where we make our daily stops
fail to become intersections
that collect to form a field of relation—
I plugged my device
into an even larger device
to download the file,
put on my headphones,
turned the sound up.
At first, nothing.
Then, horns ascending in layers,
stepped gardens of strings.
I could hear shifts in the pelvis
around the bow’s movement,
the muffle of moss and dirt
and the shoots breaking through them.
It’s a new time, I thought,
as I texted my friend
in the other district,
“We’re in a new time!”
—imagining briefly the potatoes
I’d bought, collected in the cool dark
of their drawer, how
they might never again
be exposed to light—
The recording continued,
but a new sound took its place in me,
a converging of voices
on the lowest setting.
It went something like this:
We don’t want to go to work anymore
We don’t want to go to work anymore
We don’t want to
Don’t want to go
And something within me
—or perhaps directly behind—
began to sing alongside it:
I don’t want
I don’t want to go
I don’t want to go to work
I don’t want to work
anymore to go
Emily Skillings is the author of Fort Not (The Song Cave, 2017), as well as two chapbooks, Backchannel (Poor Claudia) and Linnaeus: The 26 Sexual Practices of Plants (No, Dear/ Small Anchor Press). She is a member of the Belladonna* Collaborative, a feminist poetry collective, small press, and event series, and splits her time between Brooklyn and Hudson, New York.