that sea, that salvation

THREE POEMS BY MADISON ZEHMER

i. then

 

sick and seabound, we mined our bodies for stars, piled them up one by one until soul remnants

ached alone, separated from flesh. a sort of self-inscribed punishment, we buried ourselves

beneath sinking ships, let anchors spear us in two, our soulstars cleaved from each other, swirling

down towards shifting sand. we pressed lips of salt into prayer, let the words filling our bellies

rot in the emptiness.

 

some starving thing desired us and we longed for it, that slow feeling of nothingness, our food

and our flesh.

 

I was one of these girls or I wanted to be, cast out to the ocean to drown, cast out by my own

doing, my own sickness, my own desire to fall apart, to fall asleep. I hung in a netherworld

between consciousness, dead and breathing, alive, choking, something in between.

 

and then, when I desired to become more human than siren, I woke up slowly, grabbed an anchor

to steady me, let it bring me back to earth.

 

ii. now  

 

the world turns slow and solid and I mine the sky for stars and I leave my body alone.

a starving thing desires me but I do not desire it anymore, the heartache of losing oneself already

with me. how does one unite soul and stars and flesh? I let my skin grow when it wants, let

breath escape through my ribs and mingle with air, let sky guide me home rather than soil.

 

it still rains and I am still seabound, but I am no longer sick and I no longer want to be, the salt of

air as sweet as the salt of sea, sweet as stars.

Without

Tonight / your breath ignites air.

I swallow cold and wait 

for the rain to stop.

Frostbite bellies rumble away 

snowpowder into rust / reassemble chest cavities

into craters / pulsing / like earthworms

born from fiery Arizona ash. 

           

Let it burn slowly / or not at all.

 

You can freeze if you want / let your sour stomach

 eat the sky / gray it into something dim.

 

Or you can smoulder / like wood without name /

into something pure and empty / a ribcage without lungs.

nicknames

you lean back, call me babe, call me honey, call me nothing at all. I feel your teeth chatter. you

worm your way into my blood, brain cells oozing dark matter, oozing dusk. you wait for pain

like a leech, like a star about to burst. don’t sing a lullaby,

sing an elegy. see, your lullaby breaks against my ears, sickly sweet honey on your lips. you still

see all of the stars, I can tell, let them burn away your teeth. the smoke from your cigar dances

the dusk into something pretty and deadly, like blood

red nail polish laced with snake venom. blood blue sunsets mist the air with lullabies, ancient and

raw. you prefer dim and dusk to sunlight. you prefer salt to honey. the sky magnifies the white of

your teeth. I pray to God, wish on Saturn and stars

that you’ll leave, but you can’t. a dying star won’t lead you home. I’ve seen dead skin and blood 

in the sink, seen decay of eyes and teeth. I wish you’d stop singing that lullaby, sugar sweet and

sick. bees without honey wait for the world to end, to become dusk,
 

and there’s nothing you can do about dusk and there’s nothing you can do about stars dying fast.

nothing as nice as honey has touched your lips in months. from your tongue, blood sinks down

into a hell of lullabies and dirges. stay away from the sharp teeth

that want to make you their host. shining teeth of ghosts and Gods haunt you at dawn and dusk. 

you will never be safe with lullabies of death in the back of your mind. the stars are bright

tonight. watch them blur like stale blood crushed on the pavement. don’t call me honey,

call me gone. the lullaby in your teeth is crystallised as honey, sweet as dusk, sharp as starlight,

cruel as vulture-sick blood.

Madison Zehmer is a poet and wannabe historian from North Carolina, United States, with published and forthcoming work in Déraciné Magazine, Drunk Monkeys, Gone Lawn, LandLocked Magazine, Kanstellation Magazine, and elsewhere. She is editor in chief of Mineral Lit Mag and a reader for Lily Poetry Review. Her first chapbook, 'Unhaunting,' will be released by Kelsay Books in 2021.