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Starry sky over canyon with water

Four Poems by Samuel Piccone

Terrain.org 11th Annual Contest in Poetry Finalist

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Before You Were Born

When the heavens grew weary of creation,
all the horses found themselves led by new bridles
to the floodplain. Fearful men collected driftwood
and built swollen chapels. The dead held lilies soft with rot.
Some called this the hand of God because they felt the earth
and everything seemed absolved, dry to the touch.
Years later, a priest lowered my body into a basin
and the prayer scribbled on his palm left a blue smear
on my gown. The mark proved insoluble. Remember this:
we chose not to baptize you because we don’t believe
anything is washed of its past. Your life is a gulch
where drowning is the only way water can escape itself.
You have no say about which ghosts want to be swallowed,
if your head is meant to be lifted or held under.

 

 

Before You Were Born

Your great uncle’s mouth was full of gravel
when they pulled him from Sanderson gulch,
his boyhood caved-in as the mortar that buried him.
He never lost hold of his Tonka, his brothers
who hardened, ran from home, went war-mad
and drowned in formaldehyde beers, brown-water navy,
Agent Orange. One drove a semi into a drifter
walking across the highway. One never lived
down his breech, opened his mother’s casket
to take a gold chain. One killed himself with pills.
Remember this: because the earth’s surface holds
so little in place, your brother is the shovel
in your heart, the tunnel you dig to China, the last
tendril of rootwork snapping clean.

 

 

Before You Were Born

A scorpion died at the foot of the crib, venom limp
in the whiptail’s crooked hold. Your mother wept
at the faint doppler of your blood, a phantom limb
still kicking in her belly. I unearthed old prayers
and God stung my hands—when a child fails to crawl
the womb, it’s meant to remind us death exists
as ache waiting to cord around the living, that faith
is the shape our tenderness takes when clenched
between the tines of a pincer. Remember this:
to wake is to find yourself saved
by whatever shines first—thread of moon,
nightlight, my outline in the dark, the first sonogram
of your face dangling from the mobile,
eyelashes so arched, so bright.  

 

 

Before You Were Born

Like stones in the dark pocket of a river, my hands
softened around your mother’s body, her maternity
gowned in the moon’s flimsy ebb. Your quickening
dissolved little by little until sleeplessness became a lesson
on wombing and being wombed. The empty space of waiting
surrounded us for a month before the hush broke
with red water. What we would’ve given to know again
the easy lull of a cricket’s nocturne swelling from the rushes.
What we would’ve given to hold you and know otherwise.
Remember this: when the bedroom door shuts, the world is
stagnant as it will ever be. Darkness does not gently rock
and sleep is a bandit that crawls through the window
grifting any jewel it can find; the cold perfume of a stream
worn like a mask. It reaches for your eyes by mistake.

 

 

 

Samuel PicconeSamuel Piccone is the author of the chapbook Pupa (Anhinga Press, 2018). His work has appeared in publications including Sycamore Review, Passages North, Denver Quarterly, and The Pinch. He received an MFA in poetry from North Carolina State University and serves on the poetry staff at Raleigh Review. Currently, he resides and teaches in Nevada. 

Header photo by Nichanarm, courtesy Shutterstock. Photo of Samuel Piccone by Jill Houser.

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