Among the survivors of the Donner
Party--idiom's black sense of humor--
Who developed a secret taste for flesh
Flaked between the fluted bones of the wrist?
Who for organs: charcoaled tongue or poached heart?
Years later, in San Raphael, who wept
At night for a morsel of human cheek,
For one finger to gnaw himself to sleep?
In the next century, Jeffrey Dahmer
Ladles a young man's head into a pot,
The water simmering, lightly salted,
New potatoes, leeks, and scrawny carrot
Floating past eyes uplifted toward Heaven.
Chestnut hair flutters slightly like eelgrass--
Who can fathom such inexplicable
Hunger? How my mouth covets your body,
Teeth grazing buttocks, shoulders, each nipple.
How I want to cradle you inside me
As you clasp me within, to celebrate
Our secular, primeval communion.
What can I do but inscribe this desire
Bite mark by bite mark across sweat-glossed skin?
What can I do but write these poems for you?
Moonlighting as bartender, my father
Bungled home with lipstick on his collar,
Having steadied one tipsy regular
On stiletto heels to her Impala.
No surprise he deflected Mother's glare.
It wasn't the first time he'd come home kissed.
He balled the telltale Van Heusen, then missed
The jump shot into the wicker hamper.
Dad taught me how to mix a martini:
Swirl vermouth in the shaker, snap it fast.
Over cracked ice, pour four fingers of gin.
Stir then strain into the chilled cocktail glass.
Add one pimentoed and toothpicked olive.
Sip until the divorce papers are served.
A type of loom;
The name of the inventor of that loom;
Tapestries woven with that loom.
Only yesterday did I discover
Medieval dyers boiled madder
For red, woad for blue, weld for yellow,
Nature loaning us color for cloth.
Each day I learn a little more about the world,
Enough to not want to leave it.
During the regimes of the tyrants,
Neighbors disappear: one night
Grawing a frozen potato, the next
That gnarled tuber left to blacken,
A knuckle even the starving cats avoid.
Then my mother tells me,
"My real name's not Dorothy"--
First time I've heard this story.
"Hannedore," she goes on, "written
On my birth certificate, but later changed
To Dorothy Ann," Americanized,
The world slips away.
True spins to false and nothingness looms.
I keep words safe in my mouth--
Dorothy neighbor tapestry--
But even there they dissemble too soon.
"Cannibal," "Classic Cocktail," and "Jacquard" from The Dean of Discipline by Michael Waters c 2018. Reprinted by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.
Michael Waters has published thirteen books of poetry, most recently CAW (BOA Editions 2020). A Guggenheim Fellow, he has received five Pushcart Prizes, Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, and many other awards.