Orange Peel Epithalamium
There is a car in my head.
It's medium-sized, non-descript. Beige. A sedan
of the kind Consumer Reports raves.
It's moving fast toward something or away,
and it has always been there, in my head—
the smell of my mother's skin, a hush of wind in dry grass,
summer light through leaves
and the car.
I watch you
page through a magazine, butter knife over toast,
pale morning light along your cheek, your collarbone.
I peel an orange so the rind is a long ribbon,
and when you reach for a slice, something in me wants
to be honest, wants
to put a hand on your wrist and say let me tell you
about the car in my head—
There is a woman driving. She speeds along a highway lined with birches
on a wax-gray morning as if she is trying to outrun light.
She is flash-eyed and thin and calm the way the walls of a dam are calm.
Something massive and brimming rolls off her in waves;
you feel them as they pass through you.
There is not one other car on the road.
I want to tell you I am trying to stay, to eat
the eggs you made, ignore
the low vibration in my sternum
and the car in my head as it accelerates
through landscapes, as it glints like mica
along a black road in the desert.
The world collapses at speeds like this. Horizon and foreground
flatten like a painting made depthless by a sheen of varnish.
The woman stares straight ahead and to horizon
where the sun will set, as if
it is a slowly-closing hatch she intends to rocket through
just before it pinwheels shut.
The car is jammed with stuff. Clothes spill from bags and hampers;
a rolled-up Oriental rug juts from a rear window. A cooler
sweats on the passenger seat.
The only thing she left was an orange. She ate the meat of it, coiled
the rind into the shape of an orange and put it back in the fridge,
closed the door. Then she walked to the car in my head and got in
thinking, Orange peel in the dark.
Let me tell you about the woman in the car in my head—
She drives with the radio off.
There are no sounds beyond the engine's gravelly hum
and air drumming the windows, but it cannot drown
the sound of the refrigerator's seal sucking shut,
the sound of a key dropping to the counter with a ceramic click
like a thrown lock.
She's approaching escape velocity
as someone stumbles into the kitchen,
someone who will open the fridge and see the orange,
reach for it,
expecting an orange's heft,
and when it's crushed in his hand, she will vanish
into the white horizon.
The scientists say two bodies
cannot occupy the same space at once.
I know different.
Once, a shadow darkened my shadow
and another's footfalls fell
with my feet.
There was no such thing as alone, and then
under midwinter's seizure-white abduction light,
a nurse pressed a mask to my mouth and said count back
to the beginning—
The warmed-over raw of Sunday steak.
Blood licked from knives and white plates.
An oyster swallowed whole.
Salt like skin.
Each number a mouthful of meat
back to the first body I ever ate. Vestigial. Gleaming.
When the anesthesia pulled thin as a latex glove
and snapped, I woke again to an emptiness
vast as my skin.
Knot of hair and eyes. Teeth like coarse white sand.
Finger bones. A second spine.
Everything scraped out of me,
shrink-wrapped like a cheap cut of meat
in biohazard plastic—
mouth sucking at an airless bag, two blue-gray pits
like a hatchling's skinned-over eyes—
and every night, I dream my abdomen is a crater
lidded in skin.
There is no closeness close enough.
When you touch me, I feel the fraction of space between us gaping
like a great ache of water.
You cup my face in your hands, run
your thumb over my lips
at the gleaming eyeteeth unsheathed by my smile,
the empty dark inside me
to peel the skin from your shoulders
like a shirt, that wants
to be so close.
As a child I watched our butcher
fillet steaks with delicate flicks of his wrist
and wondered at the sinew-striped muscle
along his shoulders.
This was before I knew about bodies—
how badly they want to stay whole,
the intimate strain
I crack your bones with my teeth,
and you are my bones.
I swallow the gleaming muscle of your heart,
and feel a second pulse.
We will never be alone.
You come with me
wherever I go.
Maiden Voyage Epithalamium
The ocean is hungry.
A thousand-tongued mouth of black waves
swallowing them. Their sink into a stomach
like another mouth:
the microbes miles down like teeth gnawing
ragged holes into an iron hull.
The veil falls over me like light through water.
I draw on white gloves and my hands vanish
You must believe the ocean
and its bottomless hunger
are merely scenery, something to pass
over, like a trail of blooms that leads to an altar,
a circlet of white gold.
You must embark believing
you will see shore.
How else could you begin?
The steerage-bound boy whose teeth would rake the ceiling
of his berth as he choked on icy water;
the bespoke-clad lady who would be hauled off the dance floor,
slapped silent and lowered into a lifeboat—
each set foot aboard what would sink
believing it unsinkable.
The guests turn lazy circles, champagne-drunk
and leaning into one another
as the band measures a swansong waltz
to end the night.
When your hand slides to the small of my back,
I wonder if you can feel it—
Cold stars, no moon.
The dogs loosed from their cages,
how they howl and run
the length of the ship, snapping at tongues
of rising water.
The deck beneath our boxstep listing.
Inside me, a black void of freezing ocean
into which a ship could vanish.
The sea looks the same
in the morning:
flat and hungry as the turned-down bed
you lowered me into.
Somewhere, under miles of water,
a chandelier swings slowly
above the ruin of a grand staircase,
it's tinkling crystals silenced
My body under your hands. Your body
inside me. Our bodies
into a promise vast as the cold Atlantic.
ERINN BATYKEFER earned her MFA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she was the Martha Meier Renk Poetry Fellow. Her first collection, Allegheny, Monongahela (Red Hen Press), won the Benjamin Saltman Poetry Prize, and her poems and creative nonfiction have appeared widely in such journals as FIELD, Fugue, Blackbird, and Gulf Coast. Erinn is also co-founder and editor of the Library as Incubator Project, an internationally-known website that facilitates collaborations between libraries and artists and advocates for libraries as important incubators for creativity. Erinn is the Programming Librarian at New Canaan Library in Connecticut, and is at work on a novel and a new poetry collection