To not fear any dark, to see the sky
as opening like a body or field,
to be given a rake in my backyard,
told tame the wilderness or become
wilderness, wild as a factory plume,
smoke that blends with clouds until the sky is
a factory and we are going in
punching our timecards like we used to do,
working so many hours we miss eating
the bread our mother bakes. We, missionaries,
smoothing the ozone like a chunk of land,
like the dimples on a woman’s low back,
we put our finger in there, make it ours.
We’ve been made for this tending, we shape it.
We’ve been made for this tending, we shape it
into a top hat we place on the head
of our blue god, leader high in his gold
room, turning on a gilded platform more
grotesque every moment, here are his teeth,
worms, his hands hurricanes on another
shoreline, not ours, and from his ears, locusts
from his ears: rolls of paper towels to dry
the spillage beneath him, how it clings to
every bird, to every girl, to her, born
hatless with bare feet. In the morning, she
is consuming the waste of what’s been made:
magazines all plastered with her half face.
Another prophesy to throw away.
Another prophesy to throw away:
Her sky face like an image in a shroud,
she’s tearing through the clouds like a curtain,
ushering in the next night, we’re awake
by an old fire, the ground is all fires,
the sky is on fire, the sea is on
fire, the plastic melting into one face is
her face, she is above us and below,
rocking out the vertebrae from every
body, the longest oldest one, a scorpion
in the sand and in her hand is backbone.
Call her father, call her husband, call her
nothing, put her into her grave of moon,
sing a tune to her mother—I’m sorry.
Sing a tune to our mother—I’m sorry
I’ve left the world in such a state, sorry you
left the world, for the flowers on your grave, red
and plastic. Remember that day we went
out on the river in the little boat
we made and you saw all that lilac, blue
and violet and you said “Violent,”
and we laughed at the idea, that a bank
of the river could bloom violent, could
look like a split open body, could spill
itself into the clear water where we
catch and release minnows, as you did when
you were a girl, as you tell me all girls
should, remember—we were also caught in waves.
Should remember we were also caught in waves,
should check our face in the mirror before the day
starts slow and we’re birthed on the beach, all
seedy, covered in our father’s seed which falls
out of the sky as ash does. On the day
the world is over, we’ll stand open-mouthed
expecting snowflakes, manna, milk. We’ll wait
for another birth to come like the first.
In the Bible, where are the verses for
the girls, for the Mother who art in seed,
who art in ocean, who art in that blue
deep, taking the wind to be breath of father.
We should remember we are made of salt,
made of water, of open mouth—open.
Made of water, of open mouth, open
the door to the gate where the ending lives,
and in the Bible, Enoch, seven lives
from Adam, said behold the Lord came with
many thousands to execute. Restrained
creature now released. Tell me, my father
what is it you’ve been holding back? Go to
the end and show me the allotted bits
you’ve held from my lips, see all these sweet buds
blossom around us, the painted sky. See
how a butterfly wing looks like an eye, how
even this can hold back a predator.
I am counting down the days until you
show me what real desolation looks like.
Show me what real desolation looks like.
I’ve been sitting all day near riverbank
and some were tied feet to neck, circle girls
rolling, some were burned, some had names burned on
their arms, some were carried upside down, skirts
obscuring the faces and all we could see,
all we still see is the line of blood seep
from between the legs. Some were not taken
like this, you’re right, were not raped. Someone said
wait: she has her father’s eyes. Sacrifice.
Let her go. In the multitudes suffering
there is a voice saying more is coming,
God is still holding back a child over
the canyon by the foot. She is our child.
The canyon by the foothill is our child,
the gas station by the overpass: our
child, the lonely dessert, the sperm whales, the
forest fires, the waves of information
in the air birthed by the cracked pelvises
we carry in our torsos—and Christ says
the first sign of the end will be the birth
pains. Tell him what we carry with us since
before his forced conception, since before
Mary bore down in in a barn and he laid
in a manger, shepherds keeping watch o’r
the boy and not the mother, shuddering
placenta out into the hay, manger,
the star, our child. Those afterbirth pains—ours.
The star, our child, those afterbirth pains, our
face in the stained glass in the last tall church,
steeple grotesque pointed to the sky. We
are God’s vessels, put on the earth to take
a blessing according to our natures,
which have always been lower, these open
wounds we carry between our legs. The way
we call him in. And doesn’t every god
come to us in this way, implant us with
the seed of something ripping us apart—
Helen, Clytemnestra. We are a bath
full of blood. We are carrying severed
heads of our husbands. Our mouths are full of
prayers: Make us a new world. Let it be ours.
Prayer: Make us a new world. Let it be ours.
Daughter who comes from the sky like mother.
You are the one who tells us to lie down
in a green pasture, that our days of tend
and toil are done. Give us a godless world.
Strip the God from the breast of men in one
motion like taking off nail polish. Sand
the stone. Build our houses upon sand, soft
enough to take us back into the sea. Give
us a quiet world, cloudless, father-less,
less mechanical, less proud. We are not
thinking about ourselves today, but the
worms, how to make them a home somewhere
less prone to decay and destruction. Less.
Less prone to decay and destruction, less
ready with a knife to her throat, less undone
in a small hut, the one who brings our end
is less likely to stand, to pocket her hands,
to mow the grass, less bowed at the foot of
that man who wants the world as it is, oil
spilling into the sea, the smoke of all
our work. This is the world God built for us.
The world we fell into, wings out, mouths full
of apple. We need something else. Let me
tell you what that looks like. I’ve seen it in
the egg whites dripping into the cup. How
it’s never been a man driving axe to
wilderness, severing body from the land.
Wilderness, severing body from the land,
the old king won’t touch your hands, only grab
you by the thigh, the place you’ve covered, place
you hide, pull you into his mouth. Crunch and
belch you into the yard where he’s asked them
to plant flowers. He’ll bury you, grow you,
buy you an apartment on the west side,
and through the window you can watch him slide
in and out of the sky. He is God as
God has always been, as Zeus has always
been. He is taking the landscape, braiding
it into a loaf he’ll ask you to bake,
you who made the world this way, your baseness,
nature so ready to bring it all down.
Nature, so ready to bring it all down
to the specter of what it was before
any rib cracked. Back when the water was
so clean we could kneel before it—the bees—
before we wanted to build as far up,
up to the sky, to look for that God-face.
We turned the soil over and over
in our hands then, how we salted the land.
Ruined it. Here is the volta, it’s not
where it’s supposed to go, hasn’t followed
the beat laid down in the first book a man
said now, this is where you turn away
from that shepherd with his face shaking no,
no, no—let me collapse like a blossom.
No, no—let me collapse like a blossom
when the ending comes. Don’t make me a new
world where the chosen rise from the cold grave.
Make my world father-less. Take away that
pain of birth, of waiting for the next pain
to come in a wave. I am the false girl,
I am the mother in the sky saying time
to go home now, wash your hair. Devil in
the dazzling bright. I take the sun away
from your eyes. I say look away from Christ
with his outstretched hand of blood saying
take of my flesh and be whole. No. I am
crowning myself with disease, see it fall.
See what it all could be if we let go.
To not fear any dark, to see the sky—
I’ve been made for this tending. I shape it.
Another prophesy to throw away:
I sing a tune to my Mother, am sorry,
should remember we were also caught in waves,
made of water, of open mouth, open.
Show me what real desolation looks like.
The canyon by the foothill is my child.
The star, my child, those afterbirth pains: mine.
Prayer: make me a new world. Let it be mine,
less prone to decay and destruction, less
wilderness severing body from land.
Nature, so ready to bring it all down.
No, no—let me collapse like a blossom.
Sara Moore Wagner is the winner of the 2021 Cider Press Review Editors Prize for her book Swan Wife (2022), and the 2020 Driftwood Press Manuscript Prize for Hillbilly Madonna (2022), and the author of two chapbooks, Tumbling After (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2022) and Hooked Through (2017). She is also a 2022 Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award recipient, a 2021 National Poetry Series Finalist, and the recipient of a 2019 Sustainable Arts Foundation award. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in many journals and anthologies including Gulf Coast, Sixth Finch, Waxwing, Beloit Poetry Journal, and The Cincinnati Review, among others.