dead lion

I had to take a good friend
home to his parents
he was manic
collecting garbage in a rented room
and arranging it
believing a secret door
to god would appear
if he got the room just right
if everything added up
he cried in my arms a lot
that summer and I realized
something was wrong
because he had never before mentioned god|
and now the word opened
out of his mouth
and grew to the size of the car
we were sitting in
like a bubble from a wand
that grows shivering
rainbows circling in it
until your whole hand is inside
he had never mentioned god
the word that is always clamped
between my teeth
and he said he knew things
he didn’t know before
that he was leaving clues
for everyone but they weren’t noticing
he said they would understand
when they saw it
he was leaving arrows
that pointed to other arrows
a popcorn kernel
on a kitchen table
but where I wasn’t sure

there are secret things
the women in my family know
like a cat that won’t stop following you
on some dark neighborhood street
it won’t let you touch it
even though you call it to you
put your fingers together with false promises
of food and say sweet things to it
in a voice that isn’t yours
it’s always there a little behind you
getting farther and farther from its home
and closer and closer to yours

I heard a sick man died in the house
my grandparents live in
I don’t know much about it
except that he slowly lost his mind
at midnight my grannie once
heard someone yelling
the numbers of each stroke of her
grandmother clock
ONE TWO THREE FOUR FIVE
all the way to twelve
of course there was no one there
when she made it down the hall
is there ever
no one in the long shadow of the clock

my grannie and my mom
have stood in the kitchen
and smelled something flowery and strong
like pushing your nose deep
into a belly of a rose
they could feel my great-grandmother
there in the kitchen
the perfume she wore
the unique way it felt to stand beside her
it happens so why say it doesn’t
my mom stood in a
circle of buttercups
and knew that someone dead was there
who died of an overdose
and was rolled into a ditch
someone who called her buttercup
when he loved her

people like to say that
nothing happens after you die
that it’s just nothing and you don’t even
know it’s nothing
they say it with so much authority
like it is a fact that has melted
so deeply into curriculum
that it’s been reduced to a name and a date
and no one really cares
when Steve died it was a while
before he came into a dream of mine
walking down a long sand hill
wearing surf shorts
looking young and strong
with long hippy hair
it’s okay to not be sure of anything
maybe when we die
like my grandpa says
we get to see everyone else who’s died
and we can go to different places in the world
fly around and see them
you don’t know
and neither do I
so why make fun of people
who dream of seeing their dead again
on hills made of sand
or walking on railroad tracks

sometimes I get embarrassed
because I say thank you to a barista
for giving me more hot water in my tea
I say it like he has just revealed to me
a grace I wasn’t aware of before
that will certainly golden my dull heart into shining
and he says no problem
like the world is so easy for all of us
like each motion is relaxed into
and then performed through us
by something grand and perfectly confident
and there is no problem for me
not really

my father used to dream demons
pulling him into the fireplace
and men in red robes and hoods
circling around him
it’s scary I know
because I dreamed those dreams
and once I was sleeping
in my grannie’s house
my girlfriend
another woman who knows secret things
could feel a man standing above her
staring at her
she said I was breathing heavily
whimpering in my sleep
and she said she could feel him there
then the sound of a car crashing
and the loud unnerving scrapes
of people coughing
and me whimpering and almost crying out
and I woke up with nothing in my head
but a dark sick warmth over everything

maybe there is darkness just like the stories tell us
maybe there is light just like the stories tell us
maybe there is no use in disbelief
you see it everyday
you see god everyday
and you see the devil
and you are the devil today
or you are god
thanking people that give you things
gratitude purring in your chest for hours|
or yelling at pretty things about your love
your love that fills the room with smoke
your love that pulls its own feathers out
or your love
that moves its hands through
the long hair of lions

some relative of a mean politician
hunted and killed a lion
and put a picture of it on facebook
the dead thing broke my heart
maybe because I am a leo
with a leo rising
and at my best I am a lion
and at my worst
my scorpion moon
clamps the lion’s tail
and they run around like that
like a cartoon
hurt and hurting
but now the lion is dead
and someone is proud of that death
the lion was lying there
in the picture
like a truly sad teenager
a teenager that has grown into knowing
for the first time the solid nervous
weight of the world
and just lets the weight push down
closes their eyes in a field at night
maybe high on their parents’ painkillers
that tumbled into their palms
like the smooth stones at a novelty shop
all that warm gravity pulling them down into despair
it’s okay to go down there
but please lion rise back up
like the stories say
let me see the muscles of your back
and all that golden fur
and those immaculate teeth
that I could kiss
and will

 

 

*

Chelsey Weber-Smith is a recent graduate of the University of Virginia’s MFA program in poetry. She also writes country music and travels the United States. She has written and self-published two chapbooks, a travel memoir, and two full-length folk/country albums. She currently lives in Seattle.

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