Two Poems | Taylor Byas
“Nick Lestina and his family of seven were getting ready to put their house on the market until their basement was flooded with animal blood.”
—ktiv.com, Iowa News, 10/16/19
No varnish for the staircase yet, the last
thing to do before the sale. Your rainboots
ankle-deep in sludge, your wife gagging
at the top of the staircase. You can’t help
but to imagine the bottom stairs’ new
black-cherry finish, blood notching it’s stop
point like the children’s heights penned
into bedroom doorframes. How tall
they have all gotten. This mess thinks twice
about making room for you. Your toddler’s
toy convertible bobs in the corner, the plastic
upholstery spattered with juice, with
other. It’s a sign, your wife’s voice an orphaned
sound in the basement’s throat, her hollow
dry-heave wrapping around you like wet
gauze. We need to leave. How can you tell her
you disagree? You count your steps
to the floor’s drain pipe—1, 2, 3, turn,
1, 2, 3, 4—slide your boot over the grate
to find it honeycombed with fat
and bone, the soft crunch like the revolt
of your knees when you rise
from the recliner upstairs. Your wife’s last call
tunnels through the basement door
as she closes it. Come upstairs—a final
cough—this house has left a message. And what
has she heard? This house with soul,
with breath, snoring in sync with you at night?
You know where this flood has come from.
In the morning, you’ll call the meat
locker next door, report the accident. Through
the damn drain, you’ll say. Ruined everything.
But for now you let yourself believe the things you
know your wife is thinking; that this is an omen,
that this house has flesh that can be
broken, that the land on which it was built
will never be silenced, is always remembering.
—after Sylvia Plath
“The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice.”
Children in the yard, and nothing, nothing but blackberries,
blackberries culled from the waist-high bushes, the blister-bumps
smashed down to seed and muck, then handprints on white
button-downs and knee-highs. Blackberries pricked by thumbnail,
an accidental murder, my own miscalculation of what the black skin
could endure. Blackberries slit then quickly squished, berrying
down the sides of my fingers, wet splints for the joints.
I could not tell if my mother’s huffed requiem was for the fruit
or my ruined clothes. Perhaps she lamented the deep red stain
on my hands, mistaken for the first taste of womanhood. The next
week, children exhausting from school buses, flocking
to the bushes in the yards to blackberry again. Us little black girls
crowning our fingers, blackberries for acrylic nails, for cat claws.
The little black boys lugging the white plugs from the fruit’s center
like grenade pins, throwing them across the yard before diving
head-first into grass. We could only fight temptation for so long.
We grind the berries in our palms again, let the juice tattoo
new veins down to elbow pit, lap up the pulp with our tongues.
We paint our faces berry-black, the careless dashes like freedom
papers, releasing us from something we don’t yet understand.
It all ends in taste—the sweet syrup drying like blood on our lips.
Taylor Byas is a fun-sized Chicago native. She's spent her last six years in Birmingham, Alabama, where she received both her Bachelor's and Master's degrees in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She is currently a first-year PhD student, poet, and Albert C. Yates Scholar at the University of Cincinnati. Her work appears or is forthcoming in New Ohio Review, The Journal, storySouth, and others.
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