TWELVE PORTRAITS OF SUE


HEATH JOSEPH WOOTEN



              I. : LINEN


Should I be                      to be absorption

                in a sky without rain                     weave

someone else


                              into this blush time

                 painted upon the grass             I am tired

the sky wrinkles


like a forehead                     and it’s mine

             if I think about it

                                                   if I think




              II: HAZELWOOD


In a shade        I pretended                       to be beautiful

               in a shade I wanted                      to wear a necklace and be quiet

there’s a song between the branches                but I forgot

to listen today                I pretended to be beautiful when I struck

                the antler from the deer            I wanted

                                                                                                but I couldn’t




              III: CORN


An eternity of field etches

hoof-memories               mandible twisted

                                               in an accident of roots


He holds my hand long enough

to feel my fingers           braid invisible

                                               lengths of corn silk




IV: MAHOGANY


I am not here in the forest        no hardwood

tracks the feet of my leaving


              they can’t                           they are trees


I am not here but           and       regardless

               remove me and let

                    woodgrain remember              the song of me




              V: ROSEWOOD


Not flower on this prairie not bloom

but sting

                                             where every sunset stings

like an ant          carries                a cloud of dirt

on its back                       hunger abdomen

not thorax and never                   flower

but wood whittled        into bead

and bead            splinters in a callus




              VI: HEATHER


Where a body can wait fallow                  where the fertile

speaks of sprouting grass                         where every word

                   bends back to birth                   where I am only still

                                and                                      where the song

                                of the water

in my mouth

                                is loudest

                                and no stops for the sake of starting




              VII: CERULEAN


Drought means                              dry proliferation

of tongues                                                                      all stop

                                I stop and listen for the governance

               of thunder                           think of how his voice too

was once like rain-promise                          but I was never afraid

                                 like I am now




              VIII: CLAY


As a child I scratched              a universe

               into existence                              tiny god

of rabbit rib                     of any face I could remember

                as dirt                                               any smile

                                              any tooth




IX: MOSS


The wife to any measure of moisture

the mother of wet places beneath stones     it’s a land I don’t recognize

               racoons melt like oil into a stink of log

snakes like oil                  oily mushrooms          a twilight

               defined only by its thickness               relative to what I remember

of a dry

                                              when he knew this land          and which berries

               poisoned the woodpeckers      I knew

                               there would be no welcome




              X: CEDAR


Never so bold                 never a life

                               I couldn’t measure          by my body

                his bent back    in a familiar  of stunted and decay


he spoke of time with a philosophy

                of always             but as I am

I was never                         and I never will




              XI: FOG


Smell death and leave




              XII: SABLE


When there was             goodnight        I thought muskrat


I thought beaver tail                    I thought building a dam

                                with perfect pears       I thought of eating fruit from the palm

of his hand                                         how beautiful his hair gone silver


in a moonlight              impossible                        I thought the stick

               of my lips and the rhythm of a cricket               I thought to exist

I must think      I thought goodnight


               and then a spring of sweat upon         my morning brow.




Listen to "Sleep" by Juliana Hatfield, selected to accompany "TWELVE PORTRAITS OF SUE," below:

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HEATH JOSEPH WOOTEN (he/him) is an MFA candidate at Northern Michigan University. He is an avid collector of cassettes and other obsolescences, and you can find his work in or forthcoming from Adroit, perhappened, Lammergeier, [sub]liminal, and others.