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Poems © 2011

Nicelle Davis

Art © 2011

Cheryl Gross

from In the Circus of You

a collaboration by poet NICELLE DAVIS

and artist CHERYL GROSS

On its Haunches,

the neighbor’s poodle sits, a well-trained performer—

opens wide as lion’s song—shows me a place to rest

my head. Soft pink tongue. Trust, just another trick

to learn. On all fours, my face between teeth, I watch

children play in the street. They are eating bugs on

a dare. Worms raised above their mouths, they

patrol for each others’ hesitation. None want to be

each. All demands others to act. Whole world con-

structed from match. If they make a show of sameness,

they’ll beat judgment. It’s the boy who wants this

least who goes first. No one follows. They laugh at him.

His mistake for believing. They leave him. What are you

looking at? he asks me. Kicks the dog. Yelp folds into bite.

My face is a circle of puncture. The boy calls me, Freak.

I turn red. I’m telling your mother, I say. He pulls incisors

out of the dog, like scissors from a drawer. Cuts himself to

pieces. Re-grows as replica from every severed limb.

Which one of me will you tattle on? they ask in unison.

On the root of you, I answer. His multiples laugh at me,

you’ll never locate our cause. Give it up. Dog breath.

Cat and Mouse

You taught your hands to move softly as thieving

mice, lifting the lids of my

eyes while I slept, so even my dream-self would

know you. Now there is

n’t a night that can coax you into our bed, is

n’t any of me that can

forget the cat-weight of sleep, pouncing.

In a Note Not Given

to the Addressee

There is a hole the size of your fist in our

bathroom door. My fault, I’m told, for

pushing the hinge towards your movements.

I used to dream of large machines with hands

pounding apart concrete so a single seed

could be sown. After this spectacle of effort,

I’d wake with a fever of 103. You never

understood how I can be sick so often. I do

not feel well. Even without fever, I’m in

pain—an unseen pressure at the back of my

throat, as though an egg-shaped stone were

nesting in my swallow. I find comfort in

looking through the door’s injury. Through it,

I see myself as a child resting in our bed. She

holds a bird by its wings. The creature is tame

as cut paper—its black eyes smooth mirrors,

reflections of me in this hole. My child-self says

to me, The hole is. Not your fault. Not wholly.

P.S. You have installed a new door.

A Secret Note from

the Dream-Self

Search for the pig’s head

blindly—with a spoon,

uproot the skull. Its empty

sockets house dream-

sight. Wear it. You’ll see

the pulse of imagery.

Pictures occupy both living

& dead spaces—dreams

are made from such over-

laps. Make a ladder to

reach down the burrow of

your throat. Then trace

the sky’s profile with a dry

tongue on parchment.

Rungs are made from tran-

scribed bird-song, but

keep its melodies to yourself.

Dreamers risk a butchery

of words. A bone helmet is no

protection against what

they’ll call you if they find you

inside a hog, singing for

sky to dig you a tunnel to stars.

Entering the Big Top of

the Self Requires Help

I. I Find a Second Messenger Pigeon Half Dead at My Door

Neck broken, attached by veins and skin, its head

lies atop talons—kicks its own face towards my

front gate. Incapable of flight, its wings reduce to

hands—fingers extending and retracting—trying

to escape pain. Reductive. Fistful of earth held in

feathers, it appears to be burying itself. I know to

spade its heart with a shovel. But can’t. Not even

knowing can, would end suffering. I watch it relax

and contract, as though it were giving birth to not.

II. An Above-Ground Burial

Wanting the bones but refusing the responsibility of flesh,

I cradle the bird in a box. Wrap the container in barbwire

to keep crows off, allow bugs in. Silverfish will make

bread of this pigeon until all that’s left are pieces smooth

as the moon—confirmation that our centers are made

from a masonry of light.

III. The Message Brought in the Bellies of Silverfish

A blanket of Sliverfish covers me. They have learned to move

tonally—their tapered

abdomens rubbing together like words against clenched teeth

telling me, your kind-

ness is monstrous. Life is more than the suffering you make it.

IV. Making One Necklace From Two Dead Birds

Conjoined with twine, bones of the first arrange with this new

pigeon. Two heads. Four wings. Gorge-

ous arrangement of lines. I make from them a necklace,

heavy as a baby’s head against my chest.

With it on I am a queen adorned. I order the Silverfish to drop

from my body as a bodice undone. I stand

in a circle of exoskeletons catching glint off of street lamps—

beneath me has become a carpet of stars.

V. Steps Begin to Swivel down My Throat

The two birds arch their wings to make a place for my left—

then right foot. I begin the descent into the tent of myself.