Heat Wave

by Emily Clarke
this desert gives the gift of dust storms and hidden green oases
where i dance with men whose braids swing like skinned snakes
at their backs. my lover digs a hole in the mountainside, begs me
to crawl inside and give birth like an animal,
begs me to teach him to be a man
so i pull knuckle from palm, pop bone from tendon,
lick my lips at the sound
of his body crunching between these hands i’m told are mine.

there are always more cicadas.
they follow me into the shower, sing as i wash blood from my thighs
and force my tongue back inside my mouth.
i cannot remember a time when i wasn’t on my knees.
the moon watches me sleep, spits at me,
laughs as i try to drink from her breast.
men fantasize about tying me up:
thighs bubbled between rope, arms stretched above head
or behind back:
how many lashes to break this rib i was borne from?
if this is an after then there must have been a before.

the mourning doves coo in the shade of evening
and heat blankets itself around me like wings.
women on the hillside tell stories of my father
as the wake of buzzards at their bedside,
my father as the never satisfied hunger,
and here i stand. at the base of the mountain.
my waistline the miraged quench of man’s famine.
the garden serpent encircles my wrists,
my ankles, dances its tongue into my belly button,
the scent of apple pooling on my skin.
if this is an after then there must have been a before.

i stare at myself behind shattered glass,
remember how many times i re-twisted my own entrails
for the sake of male fantasy, how many times i doused myself
in the perfume of their rot.
still, my hands are ritualists in dark sunrise,
their betrayal a ceremony of crawling in and out of men’s mouths,
of caressing the palms around my throat,
of letting their grip finally stopper
this voice i don’t recognize.
how did i know it would be you at the end of the hallway?
my body sinks to the bottom of silence, opens
like a moonflower at his request, each sound
from his lips a gust of sand-filled wind decorating
my flesh with hollows and reminding me, again, the comforts of decay.

About the author

Emily Clarke is a Cahuilla poet, journalist, editor, bead artist, and traditional Bird Dancer. Emily is currently serving as the 2022 Graton Roundhouse Intern for Heyday Books and News from Native California. She is a two-time recipient of the UC Riverside Chancellor’s Award for Poetry, a 2022 Pushcart Prize nominee, and a recipient of The Center for Cultural Power’s 2022 Artist Disruptor award. In her free time, Emily runs her small business, Cahuilla Woman Creations, and co-edits her literary magazine, Rejected Lit Mag.

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