Mary Biddinger

Have Mercy on Me

Our storage was so cold, and our time
so ordinary, that often we dug holes
in the hillside just to fill them up again.

But that was only a metaphor. The cool
violence of your sweet talk. My red
nightgown abandoned on the highway.

We played the eucharist game. It was
disgusting, but delicious. Let’s say
no strawberries will ever grow in certain

pockets of our house. Like malt liquor
or a denim jacket concealing some.
At first I wasn’t even sure you generated

blood pressure, your perfection and all.
Thought you might transcend it.
As a child I spent too much time gazing

at a hideous portrait on a dry cleaner’s
back wall. Somebody painted her
by numbers, but forgot that lips needed

a sliver of white to make them alive.
She became the hideous dolly
of your nightmare. I killed her with things

like gemstones, a rabbit’s foot dyed blue,
or the longest knife imaginable
tied to the second longest knife imaginable

and wrapped in some luxurious velvet.
She’d never heard of me before.
She did not hear me coming. I shoot

first, always, and think later. Consider
the first time we saw each other.
I said, lord, take your hands off me forever.

A Sunny Place with Adequate Water

More magnolias than you could ever count
or would ever want to. We restrained ourselves
as the bee entered one, only to be armied

by ants under every petal. Sometimes
intervention is plain wrong. I wore no emblem
on my clothing. You wore your leather

work gloves until they were as real
as a stillborn calf, and only half as truthful.
There should’ve been a law against

us marooned in an abandoned brewery.
The irony of it. All of those vats, and empty
aprons. I wouldn’t even wear one

for sport. You made me into the best
lieutenant. I had a knack for it, my size, or else
the way I never remembered the right

formula at the correct time. You thought
we should be killing something by now, if only
a mannequin leaning into a cardboard box

on the loading dock. I always had a soft
spot in my skull, like it never fully closed, so
I hated that dummy all the more. Might

we plant her like the bones of a lost
ape, or seat her in the stadium after all fans
had exited the gates? I would not let

you touch her. That was my designation.
I had the gloves for it. Out of her spindles shot
magnolias. There would be no resurrection.

Inert or Something Else

He who did not know the train
from its whistle, who thought my body
was hostile, if not a country in itself

ready for storming. Who held two
sides of the earth apart, then together,
because why not, they matched.

Two buildings faced each other
but weren’t reflections. No water
to the top floors, and no steam, ever.

That wasn’t where we lived.
Our rooms were full of sunburn
and the way you have to calculate

every inch of the body when under
the suggestion of a siege. This is
to say come on and open your eyes

already. At some point, what you do
becomes something you don’t want
to do. But don’t ask me. None

of that between my west and east.
I’m only recounting things I’ve read.
My mouth never has to open.

Sometimes the burn is so much more.
Let’s live in it, or turn something
into what it really wanted to be.