Poetry: “November 8, 2016” by Leah Tieger

My host hands me the cast
of a dinosaur’s bone.

It was taken
from the knee of an adolescent apatosaurus
which is like

he says, a brontosaurus. The cast
is brown, rough striations like and unlike
wood, like and unlike stone.

Numbers on the TV screen change red
and blue. Their silent siren lights. How

did you get this, I ask. The replica inside my hands

one square foot, heavy enough
to hurl through a head or through
a window. Heavy enough to break.

My wife worked for the natural history museum
before it was absorbed

by the Perot, a museum
that is also a person. That billionaire
sought the same office

slouching its way
onto the screen.

My host serves us bear paté.

Grizzly or black I ask.
Gizzly he says, and I’m told it was mean.

The meat astringent, unlike any paté
unlike any animal

I can eat.
How did you get it? / On our vacation in Finland
and I’m about to ask how he brought it back

but the women around us
are weeping

and all the men are drunk

not dinner party drunk, character
in an off-broadway play kind of drunk.

The faces around us are stricken
and turned to the screen

and I am still turning my face away
from that screen with bear

in my mouth, a life sentence

of I am not drunk or crying and I
am still turning my face from the screen.

And all the men are drunk.

My partner among them. He keeps repeating
I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry
no matter what happens, we are together, we’ll get through this 

together. At each repetition I know
he’s not afraid of losing our country

he’s afraid of losing me. We know

what happens to Jews and poets and queers and I

am all three. I am not drunk or weeping.
I am a hollowed out gourd, the bone of an extinct being

a dry well.

Even the men are crying now.
Each tear is a pebble dropped

glancing my
stone sides. Never
finding bottom.

I am sorry, I say. I know you are trying
to reassure me

but I can’t
reassure him, and my partner keeps trying to hold me
he keeps saying sorry, sorry

as if the whole thing was his fault, as if
his concern could make anything better

as if
it didn’t swallow
all air in the room.

On the screen I won’t turn to
is a flood of red hats. A uniform
is made to erase the human

down to bone. Let me talk
to the dead

ask my Russian great-grandmother
my Austrian grandfather

the ones who fled

Is this how it felt? And how
and when
did you decide to go?

We decide to go home
my partner and I. I am still
an empty well

walking the block to his loft
from the loft we left.
He is kissing me

in the middle of an empty downtown street.
I can almost see
the fragile shock of lips of love or need. I try

to kiss him back. I think
of writing this poem. I think

of the empty street, the quiet city
too quiet

a doe testing air, unwilling to emerge
as if buildings were brush and roads
an open field

the threat of a hunting rifle.

I hold my partner as I held
evidence of an extinct beast. I hold

the sight of red hats. Their image
is a flood and a seed:

Violence grows inside me.

If only
I could cradle
the human in my hands.

If only death had weight
and I could throw it. How

do I hold my partner, the weight of his hands on mine
and say

I have lost faith in the human.

I could say country. I could say
the sugared lie.

I could say the sugared lie, astringent
as bear paté, sparkling

as the minerals
our host photographs for his living.

This is the wealth of a downtown loft
of art and its delicate

privilege. No one at the party we left
has children.

We barely afford our lives as they are.
How could we
consider making another?

Would my unborn child
remember this empty street
and mourn its mother? Would it live

long enough to know dismay? We must
love one another or die, the famous poet says. I might

choose dying.

In the empty quiet street

my partner and I
are small creatures in the dark. We

turn our eyes to light
and kiss ourselves to nothing.

We find our way to his loft, to his bed within view
of the kitchen. He finds sleep

and I
find my way through this poem. I know it will date itself

so let it.

Let me write on the bones of the famous poet.

Let me rest my head on his shoulder. I can’t
carry this night on my own. I know
what all schoolchildren learn.

Those to whom evil is done / do evil in return
and in return, and in return

until every street in every city

empties forever in the image
of post-apocalyptic film.

My hands twist at the sheets and search the ghost
of dinosaur bone, heavy enough

to break through a window
to bash in a skull.

My hands
crave the weighted cast
of a seed too large to swallow. I want

to plant its fetal curl, too cumbersome

to carry. My partner
sleeps inside the belief
that what makes us great

is our peaceful transition of power.

I close my eyes and see
a flood of red hats.

I see the skulls inside them.

 

 

***

Leah Tieger is an M.A. candidate at the University of North Texas, the poetry contest editor for American Literary Review, and cofounder and host of WordSpace’s Looped readings in Dallas. She was a finalist for the 2016 Raynes Poetry Prize and (thanks to Menacing Hedge!) a 2017 Pushcart prize nominee. Her work appears in Entropy, RattleGravel, and Voicemail Poems, and her chapbook, We and She, You and Then, You Again, was published by Finishing Line Press in May.

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