Poem of the Week: Caitlin Cowan
There are two black actors, so one is about to die,
you say into your longneck, a microphone
for what you know. The awful mathematics
of films like these: the other is always
the first to go. Here we are
at our worst, culling those we can’t know
from our plots like weeds—the rising action,
our greedy ascent, is built on their bodies,
flayed open and maimed. Typical, you mutter.
You swig your beer.
These guts, these knife thrusts,
these slugs exploding like supernovas
from unsuspecting chests—they’re all still here
in high resolution, gray matter so gelatinous
it throbs with thought; saliva so sticky
we taste the tide. I’ve returned to childhood,
cloaked in the basement’s pall, gorging
on film after unrated film because my mother
thought unrated meant the same as safe.
She did not know that no eyes,
no ratings board stuffed with clergy
or censors had ever seen the horror
gurgling in those old cassettes.
There is no safety. That is horror.
Reveling in imagined superiority—
you don’t have enough bullets,
you ass—we list wisdom: the camera
will survive, but the cameraman will not.
If you enter the spirit realm,
make sure you have an exit strategy.
The call is absolutely
coming from inside the house.
Why do we make them this way,
these open-mouthed wailers,
these summer-camp slaughterers,
these we have to go back-ers.
Because they are us. Because
they are not. The frames churn.
I promise if our dog won’t come in the house
we’ll sell it, you say: insurance policy
for our technicolor doom.
There’s a reason the asking price is low, you know?
We pore over and over the home invasions
and demonic toddlers drenched in gore, stunned
by the unbelieveable trust—maybe that moaning
is only the wind. We won’t make the same mistakes.
Then the layoff, the stillborn, or the poodle
mangled by the road won’t slip between our ribs.
Or will it. Are there, finally, only endless
panoramas of grief. Kaleidoscopes
muddied, panes gone dark at the fringe.
Now we know this much, at least:
If you hear a noise coming from the wardrobe,
run. If your wife tells you she’s carrying
the devil’s spawn, believe her. Leave the feral children
where you found them. When you exorcise evil,
it has to go somewhere. We understand it all, yes?
That when we bury our honey
under so many shovelfuls of soil,
if he comes back he’ll never be the same.
His face we might recognize, its scar
on the left nostril, a pockmark cratering
the forehead like a test site. And yet—
that gleam in his eye: that’s new.
We wait. We see what he’ll do.
The theater is all clamor—
blaring its counsel, yelling to quiet
our protagonist’s screams. The seats erupt
with strain, with worry, with popcorn and pain.
A flourbag-clad intruder idles
beyond her manicured reach. His chaos flits
like a songbird, and her death hovers over her—
wings blackened and preened. When they slowly drive
the knife into her lover’s side, she asks
the foolish question: why are you doing this?
Because you were home.
Parrot with no pull string, an imbecilie’s refrain.
How did she miss these lessons:
they do it because they can. Because
they’re already there. Behind you.
Behind you. Behind you.
Born and raised in the Midwest, Caitlin Cowan lives and works in the warm embrace of Denton, TX. Her poetry, fiction, and nonfiction have appeared in Pleiades, Gulf Coast, Public Pool, Boxcar Poetry Review, SmokeLong Quarterly, Entropy, and elsewhere. Nominated for the Best New Poets anthology series and a semifinalist for the Ahsahta Press Sawtooth Book Prize, she has won the Littoral Press Poetry Prize, the Mississippi Review Prize, the Ron McFarland Prize for Poetry, and has been a participant at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. She holds degrees from The University of Michigan, The New School, and The University of North Texas, where she teaches in the Department of English. You can learn more about her work at caitlinpryor.com.