The church fills
with what will never leave me. Men here
say they want to live, and then they die.
It is seven in the evening
and it is forever, a tulip forever shaped
of its wilt.
My mother is the soil,
our lives the garden. And I am the rain.
What I am is still in strange rooms — a decayed
girl with black hair, cherry nails,
a small girl who speaks in tongues
to the god in the rafters, to the death
in her palms. My mother spoke
at the podium and the birds flew overhead.
She is at the atonement stage,
and I am a budding rose whose friends are serpents.
Have you ever seen so much sickness
the rest of the world appears as an oil painting?
Have you ever watched the summer
meet a mother at her place of grief —
alight in the hum of vein-songs and apologies? I know what it means
to watch someone ask of a human what they ask of god.
It is a wretchedness that happens in children’s hands.
I am still half-child. I am a half. I am the blood of the moon.
I am I love you, I forgive you
but I will choke you. I am the earth
and its forests fucked and fired.
How I was lush once, too, as the earth. And then the embers.
My mother will remain small when this is all over.
And I will remain small too. Our gardens undead.
I am an orphan under the table shaped as a dog. Loss is a child
whose house has been swallowed by vines,
who has become the vine, whose heart is buried
within rooms in rooms in rooms where
flowers grow upside down so they are beautiful only where no one sees.
We are always in houses, in churches, in gardens
waiting. For eviction. For custody. For the seed.
Orphans at night, my body and me, we dial mother, are you there?
We build a fort of prayer. We grow wings in the soil.
I will tell you the shadow. Its sound. Its plumage, and all the rest. I will only make a home my own when I have collapsed into it of utter need, that’s my glitch. I am addicted to houses that aren’t my own. I am pissing in the floor boards to stay somewhere forever. In its wreckage is a salvation in the shape of — what is it? The shape is me. I am my own territory. I miss the way the sky looked when I held food stamps in my hand. I know that sky, as a sister, though she is no longer mine. This is a poem that has done a badness to its twin. The other poem tries to say it all without saying it. Not now. This poem means the sky and says it. This poem means poverty and sings it. Can you feel the way I move through time? Can you feel my secret soiling you? That my body is perpetually there and now and now. I keep my rot hidden the way young things do, with that spectacular shame which becomes organ. I am a summer full of orphans, and then summer ended. All I know is in a dream my mother stood at the window and looked happy. It was long ago, but that is what I know.
This shelter is built of secrets. Four floors in an ancient church where angels hover within the walls. The windows speak ivy. Sometimes we think we see the angel. We’re not wrong. I am 11 and I cut my ankles in the fourth floor bathtub. I am shaving my darkness away while everyone else sleeps. A woman excretes her addictions in ritual. Through the bottom of her door, sweat and pale blood; my mother is somewhere in there holding white linen to her forehead. Her kids will be too young to ever remember, but I will. I do. It’s not about god here. It’s about something bigger. My blood smells of iron, crying outward until it is almost pink, and then gone. I imagine this is what everyone in every room feels. I weep so often in the communal spaces that other women mother me. I am at church in their arms. Each woman a pariah; each pariah, my chapel. My mother the pariah, my patron saint of vice. They braid my hair in rooms of death. They make me pretty in kitchens of folk prayer and yuca. My lipstick, donated. My clothes, donated. My body the ivy now, the ivy handcuffed and medicated. The whole garden an in-patient waiting for light. Sudden divinity sudden blood. Some of the angels die on route. Why don’t they know this themselves, that we feed the earth with our pain? Today I avoid too-small rooms. I like beds to be my own. I like to pretend I am another body with the memories of a beautiful thing. But I am not a beautiful thing. I am the daughter of the forgotten. I am the keeper of stories. I am the disciple of rot and savior in a garden without a name.
Lisa Marie Basile is the founding creative director of Luna Luna Magazine, and is the author of a few poetry collections, including th recent Nympholepsy (Inside the Castle, 2018). Work has appeared in Spork Press, Atlas RevIew, New York Times, Narratively, Entropy, Catapult, Best American Experimental Writing, PANK, Best American Poetry, and more.
Artwork is from Leif Holmstrand’s series “Holy Helpers.”