“You’re a Young Girl Eating a Bird”
your collar is bloody.
Your lace, your audacious hands.
In the bare tree behind you,
all that’s next that cannot fly: the Fearful Cuckoo,
the Wide-Eyed Cackle, the Trepidatious
Crested Blather. Feathers tickle your nose, a cloud
of feathers haloed round your round face, pulpy
speckles on your lips, hungry pilgrim. Well, of course,
you’re not smiling. You have hardly time to gasp,
to slurp and swallow. To pause
is to terrify yourself.
You should know that we understand.
But also that your dress isn’t pretty, brown
sackcloth gussied with cheap trim
soaked in blackbird. Your haircut?
Marmish. Look, we’re just being honest.
It doesn’t mean that we can’t help.
Who will wash your things?
Who will pluck the bones from your cheeks?
Wipe your face and comb your hair
then carry you across the ravine before town?
And who will knock on your family door
to explain it all again? Who else
will fail to watch the door close,
the lamp-lit stone of the house
no warmer than the moon-lit stone of the house?
PRAISE FOR CHRISTOPHER COKINOS
“In Christopher Cokinos’ deliciously horrifying new book, The Underneath, an unnerving ventriloquism occurs—narratives of abuse, abandonment, and assault are tucked into the folds of seemingly mundane curtains, trapped beneath ceilings, behind doors, left to die like mice in the walls, only to reassert themselves as they rot (‘its own good smell’), the stink at the heart of all domesticity, the tomb entombed in home. Conversing with, and ultimately reinventing the compulsions of René Magritte (The Treachery of Images, et. al.), these poems filter surrealistic concerns through neuroscience, dream through allusion. In Cokinos’ bizarro world, fear and vacuum cleaners belong on the same insidious list, and our circulatory system is comprised of desert fauna. In this way, the monsters of mythologies both invented and invoked are saddled with the roles of unlikely avatars, finally forced to confront their experiences with bodily trespass. The result is a frightening, exhilarating, and oddly cleansing wild ride.”
— MATTHEW GAVIN FRANK
author of The Mad Feast and Preparing the Ghost
“The presiding spirit in Christopher Cokinos’ darkly wondrous The Underneath is Magritte, which lends an air of insouciant mystery to this marvelous volume. Readers are invited to become ‘hunters at the edge of night,’ to enter a world we cannot understand, but like Dickinson (the other presiding spirit of this collection) only witness. We find the young girl (‘delicate monster’) who eats birds; the merman who’s eerily told, when he asks how many times he’s been hung from a gibbet, that ‘Counting is like crying . . . and let’s begin with one’; and the lovers who, hiding from each other, cover their faces with cloth to kiss (wittily, Cokinos suggests, their ‘tongues [must] taste like tulle’). I’m entranced by Cokinos’ exquisite inquiry into the way metaphor layers the surface of language, and the delightful materiality of his method, ‘So belly down. Scootch close to that thorn tipped with June!’”
— CYNTHIA HOGUE
author of In June the Labyrinth