a sound between your mother’s heartbeat— that motor of love carrying what moves you toward the day she’ll be gone, her smell of musk and basil become yearning—
and silence like that between one lover and the next when you wake at night to feel what isn’t under the sheets with you—and sometimes what isn’t takes your touch
between one leg and the other, back to a place you can slide your fingers into— that cavity like the space from which you came: you know the explanation, but it makes no sense,
journey of egg to sperm to produce a you who sprouts like a grape on that umbilical vine till the day of harvest when that ripe infant falls into what isn’t there
between what you don’t remember and being you who grew as fruit from your mother’s parts and emerged as that membranous someone, between the absence of her and you:
you squalled at the suddenness of separation, and you will squall again, tears ferocious as waters in the swirl of that hurricane taking her, not you, into the gap
you long to fill with light and love in its purest form you have known only from the one who goes ahead into what you cannot know until you enter it.
Big-Beaked White Birds
My clever dentist has me looking out the window to see swallows or geese, osprey—or wild pelicans, even—on the pond before he leans me back, hot neck wrap, light chatter with the girl who congratulates me on my selection from her menu: bluegrass at 7 am to keep us all chipper.
“Those pelicans don’t come too often,” he says, and she, “Aren’t they the ones with big beaks?” He nods, propping my jaw open and passing little tools, stuffing and unstuffing my lips with cotton. “Those pelicans are all over Moses Lake.”
I think of the Biblical baby in the bulrushes, little dark Egyptian surrounded by big-beaked white birds looking down on him, wondering if he’s edible, before Miriam swoops down for the rescue: in my mouth, they’re closing in
as the ceremony progresses, and something dark flies over the pond beyond the flat TV where a pretty blonde details disaster (cop shoots black man again), and I close my eyes behind the glasses that shield me, thinking pelican pelican pelican as the dentist wiggles my cheek and moves the needle so I don’t even see the point of it.
Art Thou present even as our intestinal walls contract— living within the bloated belly, the rashy skin, the pigeon toes?
We look for Thee in the sublime, but what if Thy beauty is inside the transubstantiation—rotting vegetation, steaming excrement piled by the roadside, bloody exit of liquid life to feed the big cat tearing at the flesh of lesser things?
Art Thou in the movement of water splitting the rock obliterating hillsides, houses, the little girl who, breathing mud, then becomes the muddy thing?
Dost Thou flare in the gaseous neon on that sign over the strip of spilled trash and those hungry for needles—taking up residence in putrid feet, stew of maggots in diabetic flesh, whatever
takes us down until the skull is picked clean, bellies of vultures filled with what was, whilst the winged Thou flyeth forth to take up the next transitioning thing?
Lisa Norris’s book Women Who Sleep With Animals won the 2010 Stephen F. Austin State University (SFASU) Fiction Prize and was published by SFASU Press. Toy Guns: Storieswon the 1999 Willa Cather Fiction Prize and was published by Helicon Nine Press. Poems, stories, and essays have appeared inliterary magazines including Smartish Pace, Shenandoah, Fourth Genre, Terrain.org, Ascent, and others. She taught at Virginia Tech for 15 years and now is a professor of English at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Washington.