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Frank Paino: Three Poems

Selected by Alexis Rhone Fancher, Poetry Editor

Where There’s Smoke

(for Tony)

Smoke means the way you looked the last time I ever saw you, back pressed against the scuffed bridge rail, bare-chested above the Bay’s ragged thunder, scars so bright it seemed you were already burning. Smoke means a rabbit might flee or set itself in stone, means white semaphores of deer tails, cicadas buried beneath root and soil waiting out the lightless years before their single season of song. Smoke means cinders adrift in the shifting breeze, means a far-off fountain that gabbles its wet hymn of before we were born. Smoke means the right words will always fall stillborn. Where there’s smoke something is vanished. Where there’s smoke I’ll always see you stepping through the dew-grass that final late-October morning while our hemisphere tilted toward a longer dark. Then gasoline. Then lighter. Then you in your shirt of flames.

*

Vanished Twin

Sometimes, a twin dies in utero and the survivor may
be diagnosed, later in life, with a teratoma that contains
hair, teeth, or other fetal tissue from the “vanished twin.”

 

It’s true no one can disappear
into the belly of a whale and be spat back,
three days of breach and deep-blue wake
down the rocky coast but none the worse for it.

So too, a boy who is swallowed,
slow as marsh mud or a southern tongue,
by the brother who once kicked strong
beside him in a starless, thrumming sea.

To be so small is to be a vanished thing,
though sometimes a body refuses
the grace to acquiesce,
takes what little it has gathered as its own
and coils inside the stronger half:
sometimes a hank of auburn hair,
a single bony plate
that would have fringed the fontanel,
or the red rumor of a mouth
that might have kissed, been kissed,
little more than a snarl
of ravenous teeth, hell-bent on revenge.

*

After the First Bite

deep as her desire
for knowing,
Eve saw the garden
truly,
the flowers
in both bloom and wither,
the lion’s teeth still bright
but tinged with gore.

After the first bite
she tore that soft flesh
until the scythes
of her teeth cut to the core
and the quick rush
of all she knew began to sing
through her thick blue veins.
Then she rose
as any good mother,
any good saviour
would, to share all she had
come to understand
with the sullen man
lying coiled in the tall grass
still worrying
the scar in his side.

After his first bite,
which was likewise his last,
his eyes also were opened,
though he turned from her
when branches broke
beneath judgment’s thunderous
footfall, stabbed his finger
toward the nib of her glistening chin
as he slouched into the leaves
already tarnished
with the rumour of their falling,
embraced the awful legacy
of what he knew he’d started
when he took the gift,
then laid the blame.

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