Most recently a finalist for the Four Way Books Intro Prize, the Akron University Book Prize, and the University of Wisconsin Press's Brittingham and Pollack Book Prizes, Melissa Cundieff-Pexa received an MFA in poetry from Vanderbilt. Her poems appear or are forthcoming in places such as Best of the Net, Ninth Letter, Four Way Review, Mid-American, TriQuarterly, Bat City Review, and The Adroit Journal. She lives in St. Paul, MN.
The first time I ever watched something die, its eyes
opened at the last lived moment, death’s first. A razor
between the two. The fledgling hawk’s pupil turned so black
I felt as though I had been blindfolded and led high up
a cliff, then pushed. I didn’t know dead eyes darken
or that watching them darken meant for the rest of my life
knowledge would carry with it a bottle of ink. Recently, everything
has been stained: stuffed toy bears, my daughter’s fresh hair,
the dream in which I wear long white gloves I cannot remove,
and a dreamed, wild pig playing as a dog might with my children.
They are chasing each other, laughing. This pig
I’m about to skin grunts, the children grunt too. Strange voices
of the unconscious. But my gloves are too tight, and I wake
before killing. The lives and deaths of others are everywhere.
I once wrote a confession down but erased it. I once wore
a paper crown that caught fire, and when the burning
scent of hair filled the room, memory’s open fume
evacuated my head to hover between mind and automation.
Afterwards, hair shorter, my mother putting away leftover
birthday cake, I wrote down a first truth, I caught fire the day
I turned twelve. My mother’s arms and a blanket saved me.
Under them, blindness and weight. When ash hits water it floats
for a long time before becoming the whale’s passenger,
and the whale before she swallows the ash is different
after she does. I wrote this today, our baby would have been
born soon. His eyes would have been blue. To know this. It changes nothing.