River of Milk

Kaveh Akbar

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bear with me     it wasn’t long ago I was brainless

lazily pulling fireflies into my teeth      chewing them

 

into pure light     so much of me then was nothing

I could have fit into a sugar cube     my body burned

 

like a barnful of feathers       nothing was on fire

but fire was on everything     the wild mustard

 

the rotting porch chair           a box of birth records          eventually

even scorched earth goes green     though beneath it

 

the dead might still luxuriate in their rage        my ancestor

was a dervish saint    said to control a thick river of dark milk

 

under his town       his people believed

he could have spared them a drought     they ripped him to pieces

 

like eagles tearing apart a snake      immediately they were filled

with remorse        instead of burying him           they buried a bag

 

of goat bones and azalea     my hair still carries that scent

my eyes     black milk and a snake’s flicking tongue

 

does this confuse you     there are so many ways to be deceived

a butcher’s thumb pressed into the scale      a strange blue dress

 

in a bathtub     the slowly lengthening night         I apologize

I never aimed at eloquence     I told my mother I wouldn’t live

 

through the year        then waited for a disaster     sitting cheerfully

on cinder blocks pulled from a drained pond      tossing

 

peanuts to squirrels       this is not the story she tells     hers filled

with happy myths         fizzy pistons and plummy ghosts

 

it’s true I suppose        you grow to love the creatures you create

some of them come out with pupils swirling     others with teeth

Kaveh Akbar, “River of Milk” from Calling a Wolf a Wolf. Copyright © 2017 by Kaveh Akbar. Reprinted by permission of Alice James Books https://alicejamesbooks.org/

Source: Calling a Wolf a Wolf (Alice James Books, 2017)