Matthew Gavin Frank is the author of Sagittarius Agitprop (forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press), and the chapbooks Four Hours to Mpumalanga (Pudding House Publications), and Aardvark (West Town Press). Recent work appears in The New Republic, Field, Epoch, Crazyhorse, Indiana Review, North American Review, Pleiades, and others. He is the recipient of an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship and an Artist's Grant to the Vermont Studio Center.
For Cameron Hope
The nurse with the tattooed wrists lays
your photo in a memory box. Tissue paper
and ribbon, things that wish themselves
Someone should tell you, while your sister
had the hiccups, your mother could stand
only apples and peanut butter. The cafeteria
on the second floor really was horrendous.
When the computers, monitors, microphones
couldn't find your heart, even with
their wires, more apples, more peanut butter.
Norman says, April is to blame, the fingernails
of the Aries. We have to soap our hands
before we touch your sister, sing her
Bruce Springsteen and Odetta, foster her taste
from the beginning. Norman says,
this is not unusual.
So many days and shunning of the in-laws,
their stupid grieving, easy acceptance of the greasy
chicken legs, coming to us now by the bucket,
forcing similes with your body,
all the dreams of twins, blanketed in wool
and skin, gifted to you as this:
a cigar box, heavy as old tobacco, heaven
as old tobacco, a grandfather you never met
lying between his wife's legs as her hair
begins to return—gray when she lost it,
regrowing as brown—
a strange youth in decrepitude, and you sleep
through it, as I may, next to my sister, wishing her
a pumpkin, ballet slippers, hands strong enough
to hold helium.
Biology is in the organs,
she says, a bargained
huddle into one corner.
We were born here
in a circling of the body's
wagons. Dying is different, muddy,
its thin film colder, a sheet
of butter over too much bread—in shivering feet
is all this time to think
about the vegetation in the sink
that betrays you, feeds you
then eats you
alive. It allows so many boys
to unbutton their shirts, the joy
of cloth swinging open has its own
ballad, like a glass cabinet, the mown
topography of such fertile soil.
Together, we bring to a boil
its descending melodic contour.
Lipstick, in such cases, is a bore,
she says, poorly applied,
such a red mess, messed wide,
describing the heart that once held such
responsibility inside her, the touch
her mother called gold.
But ascension, she stresses, is cold
and harp-less, only a shattered wind
forced through the holes pinned
in our lids. This is supposed to be
mercy, she clarifies, but the car key
to the spirit can't have too much fun
in a mason jar, eating into one
green leaf. At least
they went to jail, I say, but she
only whistles—I can't tell
if its her breath or the smell
of the weather, winter
coming, the banter
of snow tinkling like a xylophone
struck with butter knives, a drone-
song that can't slow itself down
or go quiet, a sound
that keeps, like a cure, playing.