If our paths should cross

You show your tongue first.

Prove your hands empty of rocks,
​taut piano wire.

​I’ve no idea what color means me no harm,
on which side of the wheel intent falls.
​Darkened palms can mean so many things

​but I know better, brindled beast,
​than to trust a thing 
​that carries around the night like a black-petaled iris
in its mouth.

Stella Maris finds her bearings

It isn't for either of us to know who cut me

out of a stone and used horse bones to measure
the burying hole. I’ve lived enough to catch 
​a few things in my skirt. You’ve been told my
ribs flatten into needles upon request, fit me into
any wall until the shaking stops. It smells of acorn
hulls here. You people. Your faces have the curve
of teacups and I could love you all. The crown
of my head just coming up from the dirt and already
you’ve given me the keys to your front door.

The Grateful Crab

                after a Japanese folktale

My father taught me to loosen the cord circling a cormorant’s throat; to unwrap the tether and not cut the flesh. I could not have slept, dreaming of claws twisted from the joint, empty carapace giving its color to simmering broth. I traded my hairpin for it, whole and alive, and watched the shell fan its way beneath the sand just as a summer moon draws the clouds over its back. Father was unearthing taro while drawing a frog from the lacquered throat of a serpent. I was promised to him in trade. When he came to my bedroom that night, tail snapping at the lanterns until they went dark, I tucked my legs and arms in; rounded my back in prayer. A hum of long, spindled legs climbed over the sill, beneath my door, weaving together like a bed of reeds. They snipped his tongue first, divided his scales and carried them off, pinched, like a bright flame, in each claw.

Meg Cowen writes, paints and lives in the mountains of rural New Hampshire. She has new work out (or soon appearing) in Passages North, Whiskey Island, interrupture, PANK and La Vague.


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