Zachary Kluckman is an award-winning poet who has been recognized for performance, writing, and mentorship in poetry. With work appearing in print worldwide and numerous appearances nationwide, Kluckman is also a nationally ranked slam poet. His work has been featured online in multiple formats. He is the author of the poetry collections, The Animals in Our Flesh (Red Mountain Press, 2012), Some of It is Muscle (Swimming with Elephants Publications, LLC, 2013) and Rearview Funhouse (Eyewear Publishing, 2023). Find him on on Instagram @physicalpoet
IT TAKES PATIENCE TO LOVE A TRAUMA SURVIVOR
The first gentle touch; even this, like a dying rabbit’s tremor, folds me into plow shapes. Furrowing the sheets with my desperate hands. Escape
the shadow figures of memory who stand in rows like evergreen tendrils climbing the walls.
it’s not you, it’s me. It’s them.
How to explain the serpent intentions that bind me. How they topple the headstones, set fire to the rows
of grapes. Stain me with their effluence. Their milk
clear and wet upon my lips. Even this sustaining blood leaves my tongue dry. Be patient. Yours is the hand that unlocks the basement door, that lights
the spaces between the seatbacks and the dresser. Yours is the face in the window that signals escape. Yours, the lighthouse in the backyard where I keep
two eggs and a map of the sky to tempt myself into believing the stars can actually predict our movements. Can direct me across the loadbearing seas of sheets
into your arms. Help me conjure this sickle of night, this horizon of spun stars. Bend me into constellations. Name the birds that rise
from my throat. Till the earth with my bent back. The rain will recognize me then
as offering. As sacrifice. Your hands will catch holy fire. The fields
will blaze with the shape of us. It will be worth the time it took for us to arrive here.
The harvest at the end of a season of waiting.
The stars screaming with life.
Your head is a room full of people we barely know.
I entertain them with my storm clouds and fireworks
While we feast in bakeries near the graveyard. Who doesn’t
want their croissants to smell of newly turned earth?
What kindness I have shown your tender ego. Frail kite
waiting for another wind to lift you, spiraling into heaven.
Pretending you are growing tall, I hunch my shoulders
so you can tell your friends how love made you
the girl who saved the urchin. The poor boy from the streets.
Who cut the roses and his toenails with the same scissors
in the effort to cultivate a more attractive yard.
You wouldn’t want the neighbors to see how he
dressed your ghost for bed each night. How he loved
you back to earth, every touch a séance. Don’t
tell you have forgotten how I washed you
when the windows exploded with cold
the night you crawled into my room looking for someone
to save. When a thrift store mirror etched with fool’s gold
fell, you stared at me as if naming the animals.
I performed my first impression of cumulonimbus dynamism.
I thundered for you. Painted the sky with water and hung
ties from every cloud. I dressed the weather for this party,
then you uninvited me. The introvert inside of me usually leaves
early anyway. But first, your favorite party trick. Pour a little
more salt in the wounds so they taste like you when I lick them.
The spider crawls across my body while you sleep.
Her touch is lighter than yours. Lightning rattles the window
and I shudder with a random urge to push my tongue
against it like a loose tooth. The things we are soon
to lose ache like this. I remind myself I cannot
tie a string around your wrist and slam the door.
Your leaving will not bloody my mouth; this time.
The kids will not expect a dollar under their pillows. Unless
they do. I cannot empty my wallet and fold your absence
inside. So I fold myself into origami smallness. Tight
with potential. Touch me and I will jump across
the room. Like this spider. She is more afraid of you than
you are of her they tell me. Funny, the assumptions
we make based on bodies. As if gender implies strength.
Or fear. What color is lightning? Blood
we recognize but not the light that splits the sky.
Not the hand that parts the sheets. The hand that moves
against my spine, strangles my crotch. Tell me
again how a tree falls in the forest without a sound.
I can promise you this. There is a sound
the dying make. As small as rain, every inch
of the falling is a note on the tectonic scale.
Earthquakes produce an eerie music, not unlike
the ghosts watching from the corner. All
the music available to us in this world
and here we are again, listening for the door to slam.
You smell like you met rain in a dark alley
and it soured your cologne. Kissed you with
its milk breath and left you allergic. Fourteen
hours of weeping later you meet a man
in your mirror and ask him his name.
It’s not uncommon to question yourself,
but you’re wearing the same shirt you wore
the day you met your wife. Hard not to
recognize the hope tornado forming under
your umbrella. I’ve seen this before.
Someone made you think it’s possible to love
popcorn without risking heart attack again.
Someone buttered you up with promises
like flower petals dripping from their sticky
fingers. I gotta hand it to you. Your ability
to believe in regular people makes you
seem almost superhuman. Almost mythical.
In school you took so many fists to the face
you returned your bruises for a nickel
per pound, your flesh felt priceless. Still
you did not find the value others saw in you.
But hope, yes. Love, yes. Believe
in spirits with thread counts like Egyptian linen.
Believe it is possible to touch something
that returns it to you, touch for touch.
The street performer on the corner
plays Stravinsky on the harmonica.
So maybe —
NOT HOW YOU IMAGINED IT
The wind crosses the boneyard, oil and rust
tickle your nose. The chickens lay eggs in hubcaps. Prying quarters from gumball machines someone forgot to empty, by now a memory. Your feet too big for catholic school. Faith like spiders under the nails. You itch with adolescence, race motorcycles in the rain. Anything to escape. Crawl inside of lovers with your fingers, scratching cobwebs from your palms.
Your body is learning. How the wind makes kite tails of your hair. Fills your nose with salt seas far from here. Your shirt billows with invisible winds. Draw lighthouses on your arms, burn candles on parchment and perfect your signature. Hard times seem simpler. Dark ages pressed between the pages of your books. Adventure. Love. The romance you imagine caught like torn linen in the trees.
You used your hands once to blacken the eyes of a boy who called you chicken. Youth remembered as junkyard. As charnel house. As ten-foot fences. Enter
adulthood as refugee. Life raft built with the bones you have broken. The teeth
lost in heater grates. The chickens screaming in the yard as the wolf settles its weight against their door. How the feed rattles from their bowls.
You dream of rust and ghosts with eyes
like headlights. Bury seeds from every tree
that blooms. A future full of hiding places planted,
wash your hands, the thin leather skin
becomes with time. Dye your hair a color
you remember from a dream of the sea.
Adjust your crown of flowers
as you settle in your chair. Somewhere
a woman you once loved
moves your photograph to a shoe box.
Neighbors report they have seen a faceless doll in my window.
Wearing my eyes is a practiced artifice. I paint them on daily.
This dry erase expression mimicking birds in flight. My eyelashes
grow in rows like shark teeth. Of course I look surprised
to see you. I wake surprised at my own arrival daily.
I have heard there are some beasts who shift their appearance
when frightened. A spectrum of visible costumes making
an art of hiding. I once believed I had this chameleon
DNA, but it was just youth trying to make sense of fear. I do not
belong to some genus or species named with a Romantic
tongue. Am not a rare cryptid emerging from the brush
one sunny day surprised at the commotion I have caused.
Just a man, sopping wet with potential, as all good clay should
be. They tell me we are made in another’s image and I wonder
if they mean frightened. If they mean so unsure of creation
parts of them are given nightly to wandering naked down
the halls. Looking in the doorways as if unfamiliar
with the arrangement of rooms. If this is how their thoughts
bang against the walls also. A room full of butterflies in a cavernous
home. A domed roof giving the illusion of freedom
to the cage. The devil’s in the woodwork. Look closely, his fingerprints
are everywhere, in the random whorls and signets of lumber.
Once cut, aren’t we all eager to find our mothers? Don’t we
hurl ourselves at shadows, looking for comfort in whatever
shapes we can touch there in the dark? Sex and touch,
the emotional arbiters we turn to when the moon’s
autonomy leaves us cold. No, you are right not to
believe me. The truth is less simple. A man so familiar
with watching the ghosts erase themselves from mirrors
becomes a hopeless romantic. My faith in love
the same a boxer brings to his best fight. To prove
himself worthy of the attention his presence has drawn
from the audience, sometimes a man willingly bleeds.
Stains the floor with his endeavor. Someone should
inform the neighbors all of their homes are haunted.
Every room full of shadows. Every memory a poltergeist.