Three Poems by Chelsea Bayouth

Heritage

I am running with this package through the click-clackity
of cobblestones + looking behind me as the wind blows
my hair across my face + my eyes are wild + glisten
+ the sun is setting + I am scared and running.

The city is a grind of buildings, such loud buildings that I run past
while the people blur. People with their suitcases, dogs + babies,
high heels, dripping cones + ear buds bobbing.
No one must find out I’m a liar.

Soon the city gets green. It starts with moss in the wet spots of sewage.
Then parks with their signs + rocks as I’m running. Green, green of the trees
all blowing + waving, speaking the language of leaves + I am still running
with this package as the day is setting + a chill is blowing + soon

the trees are not park trees but upstate trees. The real kind that are dark and planted by
their own wild seed from their feral tree mothers. It is dark now and my skin is blue in the
moonlight, goose fleshed + prickling + I stumble in this wildness so far from the grinding
city, in this hooting crush of ground + slugs + owls.
No one must find out I’m a liar

as I fall across the ground, pine needles up my sleeves + hair, dirt on my face.
I start digging through the humus, orange on top, it is black + alive at the
bottom before soil. Earwigs + rollie pollies + bugs without color. I fill my nails with this
frenzied chore, making a hole in this nameless place, where I lug the package in, a thud,
wrapped in linen, tied with twine—like the old days, a book is it?

Of recipes? Of sayings? Stories? Something aged + precious, or given before I was born?
Is it photos of my grandmother? Wedding cards? Ancient hospital wristbands? Hotel
cocktail napkins? Fragile, crisping daisies from the congratulatory bouquet?
An envelope with the first lock of hair?

In the hole the linen stains, wet from mudwater + I try to breathe but great heaps of soil
are covering me now, heavier after each shovel sound. Heavier, this smothering, but
there’s a comfort too, of putting to bed, of sight closing, of night. A comforting but a
franticness, for no one must know I’m a liar in the cold, reaching through the rhythmic

shoveling, no one must know I’m a book. No one must know. No one must know how it
sounds below the soil, the murmur and pulse of above. No one must know the truths
are a million white worms under the surface of my moon skin, wriggling a history, a
scream, a voice.

 

Marjayoun

Wikipedia tells me you are the jewel of Lebanon.
A place known for your rolling green
and streams and quiet life there.
But I have only seen you in my mind.
Or maybe it is a memory stored in a kernel of my brain from
when my great-grandparents left your hilly valleys. Something
carried over in the code of my finest instructions,
the way my brows were.
What happened on your pastoral plains,
Marjayoun, Ruby of The Desert?
That my great-grandfather might leave you like a wife—
Where wheat and barley grow amongst the olive trees,
and goats are milked and honeybees are kept—
That he would seek a pasture not so green,
but rough as the callouses on his son’s merchant hands?
Where his tongue, catching on a pointy language
changes the music of his name, Murad to Frank?
There is a chance I will never know you
but in the skin of my brothers, the food of my grandfather
and the eyes of us, green and changing as streams.
Right now more Lebanese live outside
Lebanon than in it. What is a country without its people?
Its land? Its vineyards? Hair of its animals?
Because you are still here, though the last silk garment on
a windy clothesline, I must give the love I have for you.
Paint you for the world in green and grain and lazy afternoon.
Marjayoun, lonesome land of my tree, of which
I am only a spring bud, do you remember me?
Are you an old woman now ? Gazing toward
the end, your hand open, ready?
Do you look at my American skin and know
I am your daughter, too? My body
made of hills and valleys, streams
and rivers, that so many men
have left?

 

The Gold Thief

At a stop light in Van Nuys, between carts of iced mangoes
and used car lot air dancers, I remember the night of the Gold Party.

It had taken me two hours to apply the gold leaf to my body,
cool lotion over skin, tweezers for each flimsy flake.

A compact in the shade Nugget smacked and
dabbed along the cupids bow of my lips.

I was Aphrodite in a lamé tube dress, hair teased to tulle,
my eyes, little Gelt coins.

All the rich and smoldering
fullness of twenty-three.

Whining his nickname as I waited for him to shower, I fell asleep on his bed;
a cradle of dirty laundry, week old take out and DVD jackets.

 

 

x

 

As I slept a projection rose from my body
a ghostly Tinkerbelle who laved

in the gilded glimmer of a Gold Party,
while the sleeping me, dreamed:

Of an impaled Frida beneath
a blanket of aureate dust.

Of a rope around
my waist.

Of my legs folded under
me like a praying mantis.

 

 

x

 

When I woke
to a disorienting dark

I was pitching like a boat.
My mantis legs gathered under me.

And the glowing numbers of
a dizzy clock, rocked

to the sentient
creaking of bedsprings.

The rope, my tube dress, rolled
up and down, dividing me in half,

so that like a hanging cow
I may be opened.

 

 

x

 

What are you doing? I asked the creaking
and the rocking clock and my insect legs.

Shut the fuck up, a hard palm at the back
of my head answered, pushing face to laundry pile.

Sustained struggle,
hands held behind my back,

Nugget lipstick framing
howl-less growl,

still I worried we would be late.
That my hair wouldn’t be the ballerina-ed puff I’d sculpted.

Dusting like a caught moth,
shimmery flecks rubbing off on the trash,

the party went on without us.

 

X

 

Slowing next to scribbled benches as the yellow light blinks red,
a woman from Vallarta holds a sweating pack of steaks.

It drips in the road as she crosses the street.

 

 

***

Chelsea Bayouth is a Los Angeles-based writer. Her poems and short stories have appeared in The Rattling Wall/PEN Center USA, Dryland LitBROAD!, Literary Orphans, and The Legendary, and she was selected as a summer 2016 Interviewee for Poetry LA’s hyphenated poet series. She presently has a suite of illustrations forthcoming with Lunch Ticket. More of her work can be found on her website, chelseabayouth.com.

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