Another Second, Another 24 Million Pounds: A Cento*
This is the land / where whales were mountains, where the streets became shadows so the minnows could have some wiggle room. One cargo ship going out. One cargo ship coming in. As things grow rarer, they enter the ranges of counting, so I load my / pockets and mouth. The clouds and stars didn’t wage this war hour after hour in daylight and dark under silt. An owl lifts from a poplar, the meat surprisingly white, / tasteless. Where basalt meets granite and grains meet valleys, we offer our land as fuel. She burns like a shot glass of vodka. By the coal-burning plants in Ohio, with its cottonmouths zipper through the black water, my garden of lambs, my pig parts, swarmed with monarchs and swallowtails. The extravagant mountains the bees in fluorescent hives. One day we will hold the earth / again. As if She were a love. With the night falling we are saying thank you creaking world, how it flowers all.
* Lines are from the following authors in this order: Linda Hogan, Sara Goudarzi, Jane Mead, Camille T. Dungy, Jane Hirshfield, Ross Gay, Adrienne Rich, Pippa Little, Arthur Sze, Elizabeth Jacobson, Brenda Hillman, Wendell Berry, Yusef Komunyakaa, Maria Mazziotti Gillan, Ann Fisher-Wirth, Melissa Tuckey, Brian Brodeur, Clare Rossini, Tim Seibles, W.S. Merwin, and Linda Hogan.
My father is the king of gambled cards. One arm robot, one voice thief, one hand jackpot, the other release. There are rumors of something called extinction, but I’m too alive to feel it in my day- gown amid spilling monarchs where Mother is always happy to let others make the plans. Her eye sockets are sunken on the side to better see predators. Dad and I look straight ahead toward the future. She asks, Don’t you think the future will stalk you by sideways-surprise? And it will, as will skin blistering pearls of carcinoma, as will plastics birthing pallets of islets, as will oceans acidifying shells of mollusks. For now, I remind my parents there is one more generation, at least. Father breathes out four dinner plates and sets down the tines while Mother sucks in relief as heat slicks her sugared teeth.
Charlotte Pence’s first book of poemsMany Small Fires(Black Lawrence Press, 2015) received an INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award from Foreword Reviews. She is also the author of two award-winning poetry chapbooks and the editor of The Poetics of American Song Lyrics. Her poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction have recently been published in Harvard Review, Sewanee Review, Southern Review, and Brevity. Her next poetry collection titled Code will be published by Black Lawrence Press in July. She is the director of the Stokes Center for Creative Writing at the University of South Alabama.
Header photo by Ilya Platonov, courtesy Shutterstock.