6.02 / February 2011

Three Poems

The Woman Who Bought Our Place by the Ocean Burned it Down

Where the house had been, hot ash
singed the bracken fern. Except it wasn’t a house;
it was a gas station, and perhaps

the ferns burned up
too, but there must have been blackberries,
skunk cabbage, ocean spray

with its little foam flowers
hanging like grapes by the chicken coop,
leaves grayed by the smoke

but not ruined. And the apartment up top
had held curtains, a couch. My parents could still see
the shudder of crimson against dusk,

hear the bang of the frame
as it fell. Where was I? Lying like cinder
in the room of my birth?

Perched like a gull in the bathroom
upstairs, rising through the hole in the floor
my father chainsawed to let up the heat?

They stood together that night
holding my young body, listening to the waves,
the loud crack of salt against rock,

the occasional outbreak of wings
scraping black, their nostrils flared
with the confluence of creek to sea.

She Dreams of Being an Artist

In Brownsmead the house was always cold. I came home from school to sit on the floor and watch deer float from the woods where they froze on the edge of the field and startled the mist. The screen of fog between me and the deer was thick and full of almost-ice. The walls, the floor, the kitchen stove, the paint that spilled onto the windowpane, all a foamy sort of pale. I pushed my lips against the glass, its sharp chill like a pinch against my flesh. I thought perhaps I’d blow into the frost, my warm breath whiting out the world until the window grew hot, my sighs ballooning it out, like artists do in glass shops with colored gobs and iron sticks and fired ovens, until the bubble yawned into the dome of sky, and maybe I could crawl inside that sphere, curl marsupial, the blue coming through becoming green against my skin, morphing yellow, glowing me embryo-orange. Flush of amber, insect trapped inside. This is how my laughing began, how I gasped to hear the scrape of door against its frame and turned to see my mother standing there. My legs were pressed into the cool linoleum, the refrigerator pulsing its current through floor to tickle my skin.

Beetle Summer

The bugs came buzzing black
and red against my attic window.
The ceiling boards were bare and warm.
The air space smelled of pitch,
wet dust, vanilla candle, shingle tar.

My room was raw with its own smallness,
its window-ledge littered with their dead
or writhing bodies. These were not
lady bugs. No wishes, no fly-
aways. Just their ripe crawling,

the heat magnified by their spotty shells,
and to still the rot, to make some breeze,
each back opening and closing on itself,
as if a thousand eyes blinked and drilled, drilled
and drained me with their piercing glow.

Maya Jewell Zeller's first book, Rust Fish, will be released in fall 2011 from Lost Horse Press. Individual poems recently appear inHigh Desert Journal and Cirque, and are forthcoming in Spoon River Poetry Review and Rattle. Maya lives in Spokane, Washington, where she teaches English at Gonzaga University.
6.02 / February 2011