4.11 / November 2009

Octopus Attack!

listen to this poem

As I sponged down the walls of his tank and scooped
his excrement, he got grabby, all eight arms suctioned
on both breasts, my crotch, my butt, both ankles and left ear,
his beak nipping at my neck. Deaf to my screams—the perfect
sexual predator: no ears—he hung on, changing color
from brown to green to white—the color of my lab coat—
as if I were coral he wanted to hide in. I fought back,
getting him smack in his jelly-like eye with a two-finger jab.
He slid along the tile floor on his ink. It was my second day
on the job. Now I hate the idea of anyone’s arms around me.
My therapist says it could be years before I can have
a normal love life. The other night, my boyfriend reached
for my hand in the dark movie theater, during the scene
when the Joker crashes the fundraiser. I went numb
as a patient on general, then slapped his cheek. Hard.
Every time I see my stethoscope—itchy hives from my thighs
to my scalp. The smell of salt water makes my stomach clench.
Now I’m on disability. I brought charges but the DA says
there’s no case law for a horny Octopus Vulgaris.
The other day he had the balls to call and apologize
for getting off on the wrong foot. He said he wanted me
to come back to work again, said he’d see about a raise.
As if I’d fall for that. I’ll see him in court. But lately,
in my dreams, I’m swimming in the ocean, naked, my legs
a long scaled tail, cowrie shells in my hair, my breasts caressed
by two brown octopuses strapped together for a bra.

The Town of Broken Bones

listen to this poem

Dogs limp through yards, gnawing at bones piled
like bricks. The town drunk, his femur poking
through grimy gabardine, sleeps it off
in a rib-twisted heap by the plaster factory.
When a house is on fire, cast-makers scurry
into position as firefighters shoulder through
doors, muscle up stairs and throw people down
without a net. Nothing but short trees grow here.
Rumor says it’s the water, which comes up
at midnight. Taking calcium’s against the law.
Only the mayor gets a full-body cast
with strategic holes so he can make love to his wife,
who’s always on top after too many trips to emergency
for pelvic fractures. Once in a while, the scent
of cinnamon wafts down Main Street and everyone
knows Mr. and Mrs. Crag have made up again.
The mob can’t get a foothold in this town. When they
threaten to break an arm, people laugh and hold up a cast.

The Town of Snakes

listen to this poem

The mayor gets re-elected
every four years by swallowing
his opponent. Once a quarter
the whole town celebrates
Mayor’s Molting Day and waits
for him to re-emerge.
Ever since that kid blew out
the elders’ arthritic spines,
drum and base is against the law.
Once a month, the poisonous
line up at the venom bank to do
their part for the less fortunate.
Rattlers hang out at the Town Line Bar
keeping an eye out for boas who try
to leave fields and sneak into town
to poach rodents. Religious leaders,
the garters, never speak of the rat snake
club where the polyamorous meet
to intertwine, the females so craving
the males’ spiny hemipenes that they
ask one after another to penetrate
their cloacae and hang on, begging
to be bitten and held down.

Marie-Elizabeth Mali is the author of Steady, My Gaze (Tebot Bach, 2011). She serves as co-curator of louderARTS: the Reading Series and the Page Meets Stage reading series, both in New York City. For more information: www.memali.com
4.11 / November 2009