Poetry

Kia Alice Groom

At the Altar

All the girls who breathe fire are single. I am singed
from the sight of their wicked tongues lulling
self-soothing counter prayers, as if God talks
through their untouched bodies.

They are crystal pillars in a vast mist, beaming
light for only themselves. I got lost
in that wilderness, my head doll-limp
on the steering wheel, trying so hard
to make the radio conjure flames.

There was no light
in the car’s plastic interior, not in the crumb-crisp
seats or the cup holder’s sticky residue. I drove
six miles home squinting at the road as it became
a snake. I was a cartoon, a piece maneuvered
on a colorful board. My cell phone flashed: 16
missed calls.

In the suburbs, every illuminated
window seemed a missed
opportunity. A portal to a parallel
reality. I thought of the girls

in the temples of their bedrooms, all their clutter
arranged in holy disarray, a protection
charm, and how it must feel to act
from your own will and not the roll
of an ambivalent dice.

I breathed and there was something
in my mouth—the words
to an old anthem or a resurrected childhood
hymn, a dust or an ash—

whatever it was, I choked on it.

 

What Really Took Place

You create the appropriate moment: a stage set by cheap liquor and excuses. The sidewalk
outside the bar smells like bad decisions. The moon has risen like a curtain on the part
I’m playing (asexual survivor) but the cues are wrong, as if you’re reading from some other script. There’s you, in my arms, refusing to let me call you an Uber. There’s you telling me
I want you, vanity in full flair.

I dispute. I’m sure
I must have
disputed.

You create the perfect conditions for out of body
experience. I am shocked into the static.
To paraphrase the narrator: rain flashing through.
I am thinking of the first person to dominate me.
                       I am thinking I hate this tale.
You in my arms telling me
we have a bond.

The street lamps don’t know if I’m the victim.
Shouldn’t I?
To paraphrase the narrator: right and wrong are aesthetic artillery.
I am thinking I hate
                         my weak vehicle.
I am thinking I hate
                         being a cluster
                         of cells.

A man enters, stage right, and comments fucking
queers
. Every play is open
to interpretation. I am no closer
to determining my role. The man walks back
into the bar. Inside, a bottle
breaks.

The queers leave the bar. There is a soundtrack
of cicadas, rainfall, new wave
radio.

Hours later I create an exit. I find my voice somewhere above the bodies planted in the cemetery where I pulled over, drunk, and asked to do this another time.
To paraphrase the narrator: how drunk were you?
To paraphrase the narrator: did you say no?

When you leave I don’t know balance. I turn the radio back on and roll the windows down. I try to drown your smell out with the morning. I am mad
beyond coherence. I am mad with deconstructing
the script. I am mad with my own
autonomous body moving without my consent
through space. The truth is subject
to speculation. The truth is a third-party witness and an unclosed
bar tab. The truth is my failure
to find a stronger voice. The truth is

even if we never meet again, we will, 
to paraphrase the narrator, both struggle
with what they have created.

 

Suburban Gothic 

I.

I take the road away from the body:
North: the opposite of gristle. Leaves
snag in my hair, a mourning
wreath. I radiate thorny nimbus.

I walk and there is nobody to stop me.
I walk and there is no witness
but the lick of lightning tongued
from the sky’s dry socket.

Behind me, the house
like a tombstone.
Behind me, the house
like a curse,
like a lesson.

II.

My father taught me whittling, the art
of making small. There is a therapy
in reduction, in my thumb pushing
the pearl handle. Or clutching it

too tight.

Stillness is a knife, the space
between one pull-
stroke and the next.

Stillness is my body
in the unlit bedroom.

I carry my father in my parker pocket,
feel his rough point when I sleep-curl.

I walk but no distance can whittle
the past from my milk flank.
No knife can pick me clean.                                                                                         

III.

He must have wanted it.
He gave me blades for every birthday.
Some were disguised
as toys and trinkets, touches
on the head or strokes
of hair.

We had our own language of sharp edges.
Anything with a point can make you smaller.

Understand: I tried
all the other ways. But I was never taught
to build—only to shrink,
to pry, to peel.

Once I tried excision, plucking
roots from flesh.
I lay on the bathroom tiles for ages, but my body closed       
over trauma, held it.

He must have wanted it.
He taught me everything I knew.

IV:

When I hit the highway I am bathed
in mist and sodium. I perch
big-eyed on the guard rail, carving
with the grain.

How do I look
to the passing headlights?
Some massive,
ghoulish owl hunched
into her own shadow. Some crafts-
man curving his rib
to perfect forehead fit.
                                                                                  You are my blood, he said. Your bones
                                                                                  are mine.

I raise my father
to my tangled hair.
I have made him
smaller, an arc to cradle
my frontal lobe.

When I rise from the guard rail, rain-slick
and shimmering there is a moment:
like all the sounds of the road, the woods,
the weather, the women
in their houses shrinking have become
applause.

I walk and there is nobody to stop me.
I walk North, away
from my beginning.


Kia Alice Groom is an Australian poet currently residing in the United States, where she earned an MFA in Poetry from the University of New Orleans in 2015. Kia’s work has appeared in Cordite, Going Down Swinging, The Australian Book Review, Westerly, Permafrost, Dream Pop Press and others, and has been anthologized in the Hunter Anthology of Contemporary Australian Feminist Poetry. She tweets @whodreamedit and works full-time as a psychic and intuitive healer. Find her online: www.kiagroom.com

Emily Corwin