David B. Prather received his MFA in creative writing from Warren Wilson College. His first collection, We Were Birds, is forthcoming from Main Street Rag Publishing. His poetry has appeared in many journals, including Colorado Review, Seneca Review, Prairie Schooner, The American Journal of Poetry, The Literary Review, Poet Lore, and others. His work was also selected for one of Naomi Shihab Nye's anthologies, "what have you lost?" Currently, David spends his time as an actor and a director at a local theater in Parkersburg, WV.
Replace my heart with an apple.
Emotional intelligence is hard to come by.
Give it a glossy red skin, tart and sweet flesh,
arsenic in every seed.
Exchange my viscera with miles of rope,
knotted and twisted to fill the emptiness
I’ve come to expect will always be there.
Fill my head with coils and clutches of cobwebs.
The spiders have all moved on
to brighter corners in far less trafficked rooms.
Perhaps I will remember last Tuesday,
or some hazy conversation that meant more
all those years ago
than it ever could today.
I don’t know who I am, but to be fair,
I don’t know you, either.
Strip away my sinew and cartilage.
Fillet each muscle. Dry them in the sunlight,
and leave them for eagles to feast.
This has nothing to do with fire, or punishment,
or goddesses or gods.
Give me tendrils of morning glory
and trumpet vine and wisteria. Let them cling
together around my bones, which now are oaken
branches, hickory twigs.
Take my eyes, and stuff the sockets
with pomegranate seeds, and, yes,
I know the mythology,
but I will not give up my blood.
I will not live in darkness.
I will not be dragged away from the fire of stars
burning day and night.
Replace my heart with an apple.
Let the knowledge of my freedom clear the sky,
warm the soil, take root, and make a home
where even lesser gods and devils are welcome.
Death cannot touch me any more.
Starlight and moonlight hold no sway
over my emotions. Not even a rainstorm
passing over at 6:52 can make me pray
to any neutered gods. The sky keeps yelling,
a thunderous voice. My aimless bones
are able to amble through graveyards,
scuffle through streets.
My thoughtless and shriveled brain has only
interstellar radiation to thank, or voodoo curse,
or demonic plague. It doesn’t matter.
Emergency sirens answer thunder
with panic. I can feel my arteries collapse,
my lungs and heart interred in the clutch of my chest.
The first dead man I saw was my grandfather,
an atheist wrapped in the trappings of religion.
I stood by the pale, prone body in his widower’s black,
sunlight through stained glass, a parade of sorrow.
I expected him to get up and walk away, loosen his tie,
unbutton his cuffs, start a new life
in some other godforsaken town. And here
I am on the verge of something supernatural,
all hatred, and necromancy, and desires of the flesh,
because flesh is all I am. The earth keeps trying
to hold me down, dirt and stone
clinging to my shoes and sleeves,
dropping into the corners of the kitchen
and the bedroom, dust in my eyes,
ashes in my hair. I would wander this world,
but what’s the use? All that can be found is buildings,
and trees, and sky, and leaves, and people
screaming to be saved, to be bathed in the light.
Four Years After Surgery
I can stand. I can walk and move and turn around
to see what I must leave behind.
My spine is a stack of dishes, a balancing act,
a clattering of ceramic that keeps me
upright. Each night, I climb the ladder,
each loose rung. If you look closely,
you may see a scar, a vertical scratch,
a faint reminder that we could all be
paralyzed. One piece could crumble,
and every bridge spanning the world
could moan and twist and fall. Every skyscraper
could collapse floor by floor into the streets
below, the byways below, the hell below.
I can stand. I can raise my fists and pound my feet.
There is a piece of metal in my back,
the beams and bolts that hold the world together,
a country, a continent, a plate that shifts
and causes earthquakes. Even the rings of trees
can be compromised, can be worn away
by beetles and birds, can be torn from the earth
by a brutal wind. Let the miracle begin.
Let the spine stand tall, unfurl with apple blossoms,
grow rich with forbidden fruit. Let me get
to my feet to march through daylight and night.
Let me be stronger than the straw I carry.
I want to say something beautiful, knowing
how easy it is to use such words. Today,
I am a peasant of the suburbs.
I push a mower through rain-soaked lawn,
but I think of myself at eighteen,
a wild stalk of awkward weed
woven up through a chain-link fence.
My body burns.
The ash of all those years drifts toward the street,
eddies up through electric lines,
slips into cloud current. Smooth skin,
flat stomach, I am splinter grass,
god-how-skinny, how easy to see
nerves tremor beneath the skin.
Calm yourself. You are more desirable
than you think. Thirty years blink away.
Fires break out and scorch the stripling fields.
I can wish all I want. That is easy, too.
Go on, let women touch your wheatgrass secrets.
Let men partake of your honeysuckle vines.
I want to say something to transform the past,
knowing that even one change can undo the world,
that one breath can sprout a seed, and another, and another,
unstoppable across the luscious and lovely land.
The recess bell rings
at the grade school across the street,
and they come
floating out doors. They scatter
across the parking lot, a lake, a hundred bobbers
hooks below them pulled
by any number of strange and exotic fish.
I see one boy
trying to stay afloat
while a mother fish screams at him from somewhere
in the darkness below, screaming that
he’ll never amount to anything.
One of the girls keeps her head
despite the low self-esteem
bottom feeder that constantly pulls at her.
They all want
the sweet poison of life.
rewards of chocolate
and compliments of cake. Give them
morsels of sugar as a sweet substitute
for love, and let
handful after handful of candy
become their only friends. Even now,
a hotdog makes me lose control, and deep
reminds me of the best moments
of my life. But this is
not about me. Just
think of all the carbohydrates and saturated fats
that teem in the oceans. Think
of all the complex sugar
molecules entering each child’s pudgy body
like a virus. And make us
all pray for it and be
thankful. Give us this day
our daily bread,
a devilish Eucharist. Make them
so fat that their folds of flesh prevent
Make them so
large that they won’t fit through the doors.
Make them giants among men
and blobs among women.
Imagine them all finally evolving
to gelatinous forms
like movie monsters that eat simply
by touching and dissolving their prey.
Imagine all of us
shouting, “Eat or be eaten.”
Across the street now
on the playground,
the fat children are plotting
their own schemes of revenge. Heaven help us―
the manna they devour.