“Gods of August (II)” and “Song for My Sister’s Body”

Gods of August (II)

You who can hear but never see us, see what you’ve done: grow up deep
in Alabama long enough, and there’s no difference between a body

mounted above an altar or a mantle. One hangs on a cross, the other
on a plaque; one says let me save you, the other leave me save yourself:

so you’re lying in bed at the end of the day, and something is standing
on your chest, testing you like a mattress, maybe even thought about

getting rid of you the same way: dump you where they can’t see you
from the house and won’t care from the road. Save me dear Lord take

and make me of anything but body I pray dear Lord please— here, this is
the truth about how I know you’d rather die again than kill for us

once: in another life, I was my father in the truck cab the day
the blacktail buck hauled hard through the windshield;

it was my face my father’s father laid his hand to like a bannister,
held me out of the way as he reached through shattered glass

and thrashing legs for the pistol he aimed like answer, fired away
at the chest like his own: heaving as though housing a burning church.

Song for My Sister’s Body

Of two sisters, one is always the watcher, one the dancer.
—Louise Glück

The most famous Laura Foster in the world is the punchline
to the song about her lover who murdered her: Laura Foster “falls
into the wider genre of Appalachian sweetheart murder ballads
the way anyone else falls in love or a ditch: silence, then thud. Play it
again, and she’s never not dying all over again—; October,
and we’re driving real late at night, my Laura and I, bridge lights over
the river touching us like seasons, like prayers without words
as we cross through; every flicker, another flash of her riding shotgun,
my Laura who wants to burn until she is whatever will never burn
again, wants a heart like an iron hammer. Laura wants to live like water
lives: fast as it is bright when nothing’s trapping, holding it back;
what I mean is, my Laura Foster would’ve beaten, pulped, caved
that motherfucker’s face in with a brick, then used it to dig him
a grave thin enough for dogs to claw up, if ever he tried to touch her;
Laura, lungs like mason jars thick with light; Laura, made of the blue
where fire comes from, the first memory of smoke; how, before I can
remember anything, I remember Laura, my laurel tree, my Daphne;
which means, before I can, I remember her, a clean pink star, wool-puffed,
crib-cupped; they say she was carrying a child, Laura Foster, say
she couldn’t have seen more than a flash as he stabbed, dumped her,
and walked out of the woods as though waking from an old dream;
how my Laura turns in sleep, wakes long enough to shovel her teeth
from her head in her dreams; Laura, my hand running through her hair
as through a velvet curtain of dark water as we drive home; how in sleep
she remembers falling out of bed as a child, remembers silence, then
thud; how she turns away, touches her face like a staircase railing, gently
only at first; listen, you’re not seeing this. I barely can, and I’m here:
Hang your head, Tom Dooley. Get fucked, Tom Dooley. Hang your head
and cry/ Killed poor Laura Foster. She’s trying to close her eyes,
my Laura, telling the joke where smoke is the punchline fire tells wood:
her hand in mine. It must be real cold in that earth, I think, maybe, just
maybe, not unlike the time Daddy ordered 50 cubic yards of black mulch;
surely not unlike how Laura and I tunneled into that mulch, each of us
trying, imagining we’d find the other’s soft body— burial: like sleeping in
the guts of a tree like lying deep in the guts of the sky, death: like being anything
God once saw fit to cut clear-away from everything once worth saving.

for LM


Hasn’t everyone wished for something that is sure to maim them? Hasn’t it beckoned you home?

Two Poems by Olivia Olson

muscles / remember even in sleep / what they repeat / in daylight, over and over/ and over


“soon, i’ll molt this blackness, let / it cipher into the waves.”