Megan Merchant lives in the tall pines of Prescott, AZ with her husband and two children. She is the author of three books with Glass Lyre Press, Gravel Ghosts (2016), The Dark’s Humming (2015 Lyrebird Award Winner, 2017), Grief Flowers (2018); and of four chapbooks, and a children’s book, These Words I Shaped for You (Philomel Books). Her latest book, Before the Fevered Snow, was released in April 2020 with Stillhouse Press.
PUTTING MY DEAD MOM'S DOG TO SLEEP
Fields of magnolia and sulfur. Fields of brick.
Soft fur. Somewhere there is a horse leaning
into shade, the dream of apples and mint
cantering the air. A fallow of light. Damp
honey and mold. Streaks of this world pressed to skin.
I wash my hands under the pump, cold. Let the stains
bleed into a wood bucket. Paint under my nails.
Indigo. Soil. Take a picture,
a friend urged, of her death bed hands. For when she
is gone. Satin. Pinched laughter. Bone.
They molded parts of me. The dog’s fur holds the last stroke.
A map of tuft, a canvas of ash.
ODE TO THE BIRDS THAT NEVER LAND
to the songs I’ve learned to play badly, to friends who phone
at 3 am because the rain is a trigger, their fingers sore from cutting
the hands out of every magazine, gluing them to the walls.
I’ve come to love the loud flowers on my neighbor’s scarf, her hair
buried as seeds underneath, her small dog—pupils dark,
like a pond in the distance we could almost row, but don’t,
to circles under eyes—what if the rest of skin announced
such loneliness, to the ravens who shake the trees, the records so
scratched the needle skips and seals words between—
was my mother dancing to this in her kitchen, while I played at her feet,
was she holding a dreamscape of horses grazing to get her
through—I hold stones with healing properties, a limp feather, ache,
to the metronome of fear, to the neighbor who takes an ad
out looking for someone to fix his cuckoo clock, to those still trying
to set time right so they can show up to the party, the meeting,
the class, life like a kind of soup made from scraps, add salt,
to the dream I had where I was laying on his chest and wanted
nothing, to waking and wanting only that.
OMEN TO WARD OFF HEARTBREAK
I edge the doorway with salt,
Plant baby teeth in a bed with sage
use the tip of a nail to prick a field of starlings along my shin.
I have come to learn that every yes has teeth,
and apologies are not lined with bone.
At daybreak, we travel the opposite direction
and drive until funnels of green stretch
into rows of tidy houses, basements buried except for
windows made only for seeing out.
I ask if you are done with anger. You stop to buy seedless
watermelon from a roadside farmer, then play the radio too loud.
Before it grows dark,
you ask what use is a hammer
to a field of corn whose stalks already bend
like broken fingers, by which I know
you mean yes.
I am raising a militia of sunflowers,
lining them in front of my porch,
where I know light is sparse,
but these days call for chances
some other version of me would
cringe as reckless. It is no longer
enough to say love, crease a page with
that jujitsu—months ago I plunged
avocado pits into glasses of water
that dinged, eventually their hard
shapes split, and the held-seed softened,
but refused to unfurl. I wanted only
to give my hands a thing to bury.
My left breast, I tell the nurse on the phone.
One lump hard, not unlike the small stones
my son treasures into his pockets
while hiking. The other soft. The earth is
an oblate spheroid. I am reminded of this during
distance learning that has become
the epicenter of our house. It’s easier to recall
facts when they are chained to an experience.
I download a star chat to find
Andromeda after the clinician tells me there’s
a backlog of woman that have been waiting
months for imaging. I am placed at
the end of this invisible line. On Mother’s Day,
we are without a grave or marker to visit,
so, we speak little of the tumor that grew
in her brain, instead pile stones for a
slingshot, measure the arc of each fling.
I do not know if it was coded,
or chemical, or how long my mother carried the spec
before it swelled and barbed. I snap tendrils
that wound our wrought iron fence,
brittled during years of direct sun. We call this
cleanup a reclamation, forgetful that we are
borrowing this space.
I’m high risk, I tell the nurse as she logs
my specifications. Height. Weight.
The history that swims in my blood.
I use my mother’s maiden name as password.
She reads it back slowly, as if pulling the
margins of each letter clean.