The self says, I am;
The heart says, I am less;
The spirit says, I am nothing.
Say I’m clover and Queen Anne’s
lace, devil’s paintbrush and lupine.
Say I’m a yard of junked cars,
each with its corona of broken
glass and never-mowed grass.
I’m dirt trail to cattail. My heart
this sudden pond, this skipped
stone. Say I’m a girl in a sundress,
perpetual beginner in a cloud of bees
and blackflies, and my heart a foraged
apple, still green. Say, o my bones,
my heart’s a whiskey bottle glinting
from the weeds. I pull a wagonload
of hearts to the store at the end
of my road, trade them for dimes,
and say the dimes become my heart.
They call this redemption. I’m the field
of goldenrod behind the empty
chicken house, and my heart’s
a span of wasted sheet metal
that burns there noondays, blisters
feet. Near suppertime, my heart’s
the leaf that volunteers in the shade
of the woodshed. It tastes of lemon
and is safe to chew. Then my heart’s
a bowl of poorman’s stew, salt broth
and slivers of meat. By bedtime
I’m a learned, nimble girl, sunburned
and yearning before the box fan.
My heart the mosquito coil, the bugs
blood drunk. My heart the dishrag
dipped in vinegar. The hand
that soothes. The meager breeze.
The heat. Before the moon draws back,
dare I blaze like a tree? What if
I’m this body, TV blue and sweating
on a blanket of stiff wool,
and my heart’s an old, sad dog,
stretched out beside me?
What can I tell my bones?
Before they’re stones under
stones, tell them the French words
for summer, hunger,
choice. That the nothing
echoing the culvert is my voice.
Melissa Crowe is the author of Dear Terror, Dear Splendor (University of Wisconsin Press, 2019); her work has appeared in the Atlanta Review, Crab Orchard Review, Florida Review, and Seneca Review, among other journals. She’s coordinator of the MFA program at UNCW and co-editor of Beloit Poetry Journal.