Kate Frank

 

Kate Frank is co-host of the Hampshire County Slam Collective poetry show in Western Massachusetts. She can be found reading poems most Tuesday nights, and making waffles most Wednesday mornings. Her work has been previously published in The Reader and performed in various venues across New England and the Midwest.

 

Four Poems (July 20, 2011. Issue 29.)

PDX to BDL

In the back of a clattering shuttle bus, I wake up to a series of streetlamps illuminating
empty parking lots. When I got home a month ago the lights were suspended in fog,

as if hovering on the branches of a Christmas tree. Leaving, I feel too visible—
like I am inside a well-lit room at night, windows turned to temporary mirrors.

Three thirty in the morning welcomes my grief into its arms like a fat grandmother,
tries to softly smother it into resting. My grief does not rest, even as I bunch my scarf

into a pillow and try to nod off on the rattling window. I nod, bouncing my skull
against the glass, but do not get off. I watch silhouettes of evergreens in the sky.

Every curve we hit, the bus nearly careens off the road. The driver is paid for this.
When I imagine home, I can see the skeletons of the people I've left behind:

their skulls, their teeth, their spines curving with the mattresses of their beds.
I worry their bodies have emptied in sleep and will not refill. I worry they will

wake up and feel as if they are empty. I worry my skeleton wasn't made
to be constantly flung across the country like this. I watch the x-ray machine

scan backpacks, and jackets, and the plastic bin with my boots in it. I imagine
the bones inside everything. I imagine the thinning of my marrow, a hollowing.

Home. A word with a hole in it. Here. A word with two e's like a skipped rock
that sinks. Have. A word with a v in the middle like migrating birds or the point

of a guillotine falling. I have a home here. Evergreen sap stuck to my sneakers,
dirty snow seeping through the canvas: in less than twenty-four hours I can travel

three thousand one hundred and thirty nine miles, have the evidence of both coasts
smearing my shoes. The skin on my hands cracks in airplane air and my bones

bounce against my skin and the town I lived in for eighteen years pulls away
below me, a breath that leaves my lungs empty.

Start Here

with the leaves, lush & green.
Soft breeze, summer storms
& muggy mornings.

All the buildings empty.
So much walking. This summer
all pathways, all journey.

End up in Minnesota. End up
in a twenty hour car ride
crying when Taylor Swift comes on,
buying gas station food,

touching the liquor bottles
of Ohio's mini-marts. End up
in winter with the trees
all shivering, naked brushstrokes
on the mountains.

Go back—there's a hotel lobby.
Forwards—there's a sunset
over the fields. Back—a lighting bug
trapped in the blinds, the first
summer in New England.

Forwards, again, & forwards—
The cornstalks are tall, or the ears
have been picked, or the dead straw
of the stalks is laid down
like sleeping children.

This summer was all about rabbits.
Rabbits in the morning on the way
to work, rabbits chased by the snapping
jaws of dogs, rabbit symbolism
researched at my desk: fertility,
the moon, transformation?

This summer was all about butterflies,
too. Transformation, still. I saw one
on the day I left for Minnesota.
It landed on my luggage. I am still

waiting, but it's winter now
& I don't have wings. What else
does transformation mean? I have mud
on my boots & the buildings

all have people in them again.
I have bug bites on my legs.
No, I had bug bites on my back.
No, our couch probably had fleas.
They left little welts all over my ankles.

Summer turned into autumn,
& autumn lost her leaves to winter.

This summer I baked like a cake.
Every toothpick inserted comes out
covered in rain water. Every toothpick
leaves tiny welts on my ankles.
Every toothpick smells like a grease fire.

See? Something went wrong.
I think it was the fleas in the couch,
or the pink toilet I vomited into
on my twentieth birthday. It got moldy
around August. Or maybe there was mold
in its tank in June. Maybe that's why the sun
couldn't fix me. Maybe that's why

I walked home in the thunderstorm.
When I was twelve I wore the same red sweatshirt
every day. It used to mean something,
this body I have. These mornings I wake up.
I used to imagine Minnesota was made of salt
because of all the snow but they don't
even have the ocean there. This summer ate me

from the inside out, like a flea
trapped in a birthday cake. Or I ate
this summer like a greedy girl
eats someone else's gingerbread house.

Imago

I. the body
the body eats,		leaves & leaves & leaves.
   the body breathes.
   the body falls over & cannot get back up.
   sun hits the eyes, the face. (it is broken by autumn,
   by falling)
   the body opens itself to light.
II. the body, waiting
Inside a cocoon, a body
   turns to liquid first.
   Before it can be made
   butterfly or moth;
   angel or imago;
   sexually mature cicada.
Before it can grow wings,
   the body melts down like metal.
   Somehow retaining the knowledge
   of the body to come
   in the simple soup of once-was.
& what of the husk
   left behind by the body winged?
   How much body is left
   inside, hairs or dead skin
   or the delicate impression
   of inverted scales imprinted
   on the silken grey or dull flake
   of husk?
III. the body, winged
they wait.
   & then suddenly they are strung
   like spiderwebs or strands of light – 
   like filaments of an unknown instrument –
   they are strung
   they are mist waiting to escape the mouth
the wings are quiet:
   they are bearing the body:
   upwards
IV. the body flying
What does it matter what remains?
Hello, wings.		Hello wind
   against the scales of my face.
V. the body, part II
 this is the whisper of weight:
   how it has saved,
   saved me.
VI. the body flies
the plural of imago
   is imagines.
VII.
(                         )

found instructions for an unnamed machine

(Previously published in the Spring 2011 issue of The Reader.)

step one. you are a liar.
step two. you wear the word truth around your neck as a talisman to draw out the poison.
step three. he gives you a hickey right above your collar bone and tastes blood. tastes something black like it emerged from compressed bones.
step four. what aren't you saying?
step five. what are you saying?
step six. try not to think when you talk.
step seven. try not to think when you wash dishes, when you walk to class, when you make love. try to make yourself a field, something fallow, try to prepare yourself for what will happen next.
step eight. salt the earth.
step nine. let him press seeds into your skin.
step ten. pray that you will be able to go home.
step eleven. hear him tell you that you are not trying hard enough.
step twelve. believe he is telling the truth, but somehow also lying.
step thirteen. know your talent is not wasted but scratching at something inside of you, sharpening.
step fourteen. realize you do not write for anyone. you do not believe anyone is listening. a pile of your things is in a trashcan or a salvation army drop off center. realize love's artifacts always end up discarded.
step fifteen. realize that you hate something so big it makes the space below your collarbone taste like oil.
step sixteen. go home. go somewhere you are loved without question.
step seventeen. love without question.
step eighteen. think of all of the people you have believed were special. how you thought they knew you. knowledge gleaned from watching you sleep or feeling your breath brush their ears with secrets, from being the first boy with whom you cheated on someone or the first boy on whom you cheated. how you thought they possessed some revelation of your character, some aspect of yourself you are desperate for them to teach back to you, as if they've seen what in you is capable of being loved and and now hold that knowledge tight, dispensing it sparingly with kisses and arguments and silences.
step nineteen. but who are these people? don't they all blur together? don't they all stand out in your mind like bullet holes or marbles or cheap plastic toys? anyway, don't they all seem singular and yet from the same family of things? a sadness that keeps pulling you under like a wave: the water different each time and yet the same choking mouthful.
step twenty. write your ghosts. write what you will not say. if there have been snakes in the sheets of every bed you've shared-- do not let them win. write until the words cut into their bite marks and draw blood, draw the poison to the surface. tingling, primitive, still sweating in pain-- write until your mouth is full of copper and venom. spit until your teeth turn white.

The Legendary