Father makes us watch
as flames spit up from the floorboards.
We found out later it was lightning
that struck the cross atop
Mount Sinai Baptist Church,
set it to burning. Fire
is what awaits the wicked he shouted,
the first time he cast light
through the cracked door
and found us. Before your broke nose
bled into my hand. Before
the earth heaved and our father
looked on what he had made
and something in him knelt down.
I know no religion
but the black of your hair
matted against the pillow.
Morning sun smote our eyelids
and somewhere a stump rocked
from an ax going clean through
a chicken’s neck. You turned
your head toward me, and a feather
lifted into the air before settling
where dust motes swarmed in the corner.
We stand on opposite sides of the creek,
stretching taut the strings
connecting tin cans
we whisper into, tempting
the distance between us. There is
always the daily unraveling
of the blood that binds us together,
always the nightly rethreading,
smell of cow shit and summer-
warm ranunculus in the breeze
through our window. Flesh
of my flesh. Bone of my bone—
If I could
I would sharpen my tongue
on your sweat-soaked belt strap
while a dogtooth moon
bellows at our front porch.
Then you wouldn’t say Sister
sometimes I taste your familiar,
nor I Brother, sometimes
your cum tastes like honeysuckle.
And might we be beautiful
if every night you didn’t wash me
from interstates that run
across your palm, rinse my lip
grit off the sunburnt embankment
of your neck? The day
the Yalobusha flooded we sat
watching bass boats salvage driftwood,
carry the stranded toward town.
The railroad bridge’s dust
daubed my thighs and water mites
speckled the river’s surface. You sank
nail crescents into my arm, claimed
it was a blessing nobody was lost.
But I knew we were
the cricket song of bedsprings
that brought about the reversal of creation.
By letting you name me, he made it so
I’d never be good to any god but you—
Maari Carter hails from Winona, Mississippi, where she spent the better part of nine years behind the cash register at a gas station. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in such publications as burntdistrict, Superstition Review, and Salt Hill Journal, among others. She is the winner of the 2014 Philip Booth Poetry Prize from Salt Hill Journal and recently completed an MFA in Poetry at Florida State University.