ISSUE 6 · SPRING 2011
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
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
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.
In the Circus of You will be published by Rose Metal Press (spring 2014).
Nicelle Davis lives in Southern California with her son J.J. Her poem "Sideshow Serpentina" appeared in Issue 3 of A cappella Zoo, and her other poems have appeared or are forthcoming in several journals, including Broadsided, where she was thankfully introduced to the artist Cheryl Gross. She’d like to acknowledge her poetry family at the University of California, Riverside and Antelope Valley Community College. She runs a free online poetry workshop at The Bees’ Knees Blog and is assistant poetry editor for Connotation Press.
Cheryl Gross has an MFA in New Forms from Pratt. She writes: “When asked about my work, I always equate it with creating an environment transforming my inner thoughts into reality. Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, my urban influence has indeed added an ‘edge’ to my work. I am involved in solving visual and verbal complexities, such as design and narrative. The result: mini documentaries based on the absurdities of life.”