At trouble begins the threshold, begins the throb of ash I keep
trying to put out. But you had a daughter, flame whose scarlet gash
enhanced whatever bleakened. So tarred, you burned on when
you didn’t want to. Lousy luck our souls were thin from grieving.
Planets on the sun’s same side, dime-thin, boned and hung.
Aluminum edges taking the nights apart, some kind of life. That’s
how Char became, turned to hissing ground dust. We wasted
white girls in a podunk, infected with the lovers meant to soothe
us, now even our shadows are ridden. Gardener seeding our palms,
saying this much will make you sick, seeding more, saying this much
will kill you. That’s what survival came to mean: to weave a master-
piece of holes from ochre silage. Some kind of life. And what is a
Flame without a chuckhole of ignition to set her. You blackening
and blackening your hands as if we’d never stop unclaiming it.
Do you remember how the needle
drifted in that glossy ungrooved space before it soared
back to the beginning,
I asked J.
I had come down to the phone booth to call.
Do you remember how when we ruined
it was inside that glossy silence?
It could absolutely happen
that I could find out that A had met with J
and was told we could not ever talk again because of something that made a kind of sense.
Because that also happened with B.
And it absolutely did happen
at McDonald’s, the sunglasses with the lanyard, how A looked like a Sleestack in them,
how J was creeped out but not scared as if having walked briefly into
a weird movie before walking back out of it.
I said I think the phone booth could be bugged.
J said do you think you are going mad?
That hush between All For Leyna and You May Be Right again.
Between For Cryin’ Out Loud and Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad again.
When I go downtown, I said, the merchants’ eyes are turning.
Do you remember the big knob we’d unspool across the dial,
the eye to its glass toothy grin as if
there was another world outside of this one and if you could find someone
there you could touch it,
I asked J, and wondered aloud how I’ll ever learn if I’m not taut.
J said you have to taut yourself.
I said I want to cut myself
out of myself. I said I want to be held down by something.
Remember Doc’s old jars, how that rancid fluid always had something floating,
how once we found two tonsils in formaldehyde and we left them on the sill
then we looked and looked because we knew somewhere
there had to be an embryo.
J said are you moated?
I said I’m very castled, very fabled.
I want to come back down here with my dime and wring you.
J said why do fingerprints on the phone worry you?
I said because I’m so taut I don’t know what is true.
Then J said where’d you go? I said to A, whose tools are truth and logic,
who is both char and glisten. I said
remember those books where the answers to the questions
were printed upside down. I said
he is oxygen to me.
Then J said this is a shitstorm.
Remember crawling on the roof of the barn, waiting for that malt liquor sunrise
I asked the truth police,
who said you don’t have to have a spear to stick yourself.
They were always leaving their card in case I remembered something,
When they said what’s your name
just like that I was Flame again,
and that’s all I can remember except
up the scared-ass stairs like a goat and all the blood draining.
If I could make it any clearer I would:
the amber is bat-shit crazy.
We scream at the dogs to stay away
from the amber.
The amber was built for distance. Old folks say
they are “caught up in the amber”.
It’s always in the spring of its endurance.
It feels only the rock
it’s wrapped around.
The amber shot the president in a warehouse
and was caught in a theater. The amber
shot the president in a theater
and was caught in a warehouse.
The amber always takes me to a second location.
I thought the amber was my reckoning, that it
would bury me. But the thing you can't bear
breeds affection for the thing. Now the amber
is keeping me alive. I wish
I could say it better: it’s not
as much a torrent as a tether.
Michelle’s work has appeared in Bennington Review, Indiana Review, Drunken Boat, The Feminist Wire, and others. She is the author of the chapbook Who Will Be Frenchy? (dancing girl press). She lives in Maine.