Twelve

by Jennifer Martelli

I.

She was the strong one, the one who knew things. We
pondered a figure on a coin in a velvet box. I admitted 

I’d never leave her. I was the one who buttered the toast we
ate most nights for supper. The coin was gold, there were

three etched figures: the horns, the moon, the powerless
god. I’d lick the knife still warm & sweet creamy all over

the stainless steel. I asked her, the night of the equinox, at our
oak-leafed table, which she would prefer: my love or my addiction,

savory aspic or golden marmalade with orange peel that
I could never abide: the texture, not soft, not hard, & our

throats so sore from the drafty windows. Look, I said, the elm lives!
It’s a miracle!
Its roots—those knotty pocked arms—had

grown thick & strong, cracked the road, had become
female in its lone survival: many-armed, ired & unmanageable.


II.

She & I love/hate/love each other. We
can’t slam down phones anymore. We came

to Hell-Frozen-Over with devices. We came to
lakes of cracked smart phone screens. I believe

she still loves me when she posts to my wall: snakes, that
albino boa, copperheads, golden asps. She is a-

fraid of spiders. I send so many to her my power
cord heats up: black widows, tarantulas. Even greater,

daddy-long-legs on a man’s penis. Even greater than
that: python eating kitty. Female baldness. We outdo ourselves.

Menopause. Barren spiders. Live birth mambas. Could
I think of worse? I erased my history, tried to restore

this morning’s searches: spider spider spider. For us,
it’s a binary thing: to forget or to frighten to

.gif in a loop of monsters, to vine & cling to sanity.

III.

She & I made a crown of thorns with golden-brown pipe cleaners. We / each painted the tips red with glitter nail polish, made / it glow with ruby solar mini lights. We used a / whole package from x-mas—which seemed a wasteful decision— / so they’d hang over her forehead, some above the brow, some to / her lashes. She sat out on the patio with friends. Turn / they said, turn this way, no this way. They wanted to see our / project, how it glowed in the sun. Will / you make me one? someone asked. I brought out more mint tea and / cold cloths I’d kept on ice. We played an anagram game: lives / became Elvis, became evils, then, lies, lie, vies, vile. We mulled over / this wordplay. I said, do you know that Elvis dyed his hair from blonde to / shoe shine black? & then it truly happened! He transformed the color deep in the / roots to that pitch sheen: his pompadour, wet with pout, he took such care / combed it & trained it. The bloody crown’s power was of / the sun: the tiny bulbs soaked in the light & the heat & God, / her face got so sweaty! I held an ice cube to the nape of her neck as / she moved around the party, stayed out of the shade. We / walked around all day like conjoined twins sharing a vital organ. We understood / we couldn’t be separated. Someone asked to wear the crown, but I said no to him.

IV.

Vampires can shatter into 500 bats, I told her, fly faster than we

can only dream, can fly through the man-made

iron bars of the cage, can twist across the desert into a 

dust devil, silent, hungry, thirsty, fractured, searching, 

she, too, every night, teeth poised at a gold apple throat and

she was a storm of black leather gloves, unnatural, fearless

love-slapping me until I died of pleasure: vampire, moral, 

amoral, immoral, grief-stricken, we took stock & inventory

while the ashes cooled under the crescent moonstone of

a goddess’s crown: we took sunlight & gasoline, burnt alive ourselves.

V.

How lonesome must a woman be to break her own throat? Were we
ever that bluesy? To use the word lonesome? Okay, I admitted
I owned a fringe suede coat, begged a woman not to leave, sang to

Mick Jagger. Doo doo doo doo doo doo. Doo doo doo doo doo doo, God
I miss you
. No, no, no, Lord, I miss you. OK, I begged two men to
leave, one woman to stay. OK, I misspoke. I told the lie we all tell ourselves: 

that we can use the plural pronoun, that we are not lonesome and
bluesy. A woman can fold herself up like a collapsible ruler to
fit in the back pocket of a pair of blue jeans. David Bowie’s blue, another

blue, blue jeans blue. Sometimes I feel like oh, the whole human
race jazzin’ for Blue Jean.
A woman broke her own throat: she was being
secretive & dramatic, they said, she was being lonesome & blue, the

weight of her sadness pulled the gold silk scarf tight. She knew the exact
torque: how to fall forward to her knees. This is the veiny nature
of want. This is the nature of lonesome. In the heart & in the soul of

want is a blue stone, or maybe something like a stone, near-blue, our
silence.  & theft & metaphor & moralizing. My loud blue wrongs.


VI.

Our dentist said that old molar was rotted through: we
both saw its shadow socket on the x-ray. The tooth became
an echo, a miscarriage, had to be pulled entirely:
a gold vegetable with a bad root. Are you ready?
he asked her. This shouldn’t hurt, there’s nothing to
anchor it to your jaw anymore. You have
poison in the hole, an infection that can go d-
own your throat to your belly. I’ll remove
& clean out that bad hole, but you may lose all
of your teeth: not at once, but all of these
back here first, even the whitest ones have defects
down below the gum line, sorry. It’s a disease of
deep tissue regression, not of the bone’s character.

VII.

In the belly of the Athenaeum, around a scarred oak table, we
argued over the ubiquitous & symbolic buffalo: humbly,

I listened to her long poem about the Yangtze River & asked
why would a buffalo be there, grazing in rice paddies? Why place him

away from golden fields of grain, from his home, home on the range, to
this eastern land in a misbegotten poem?
I suggested she remove

the beast. If you’d Googled buffalo, you wouldn’t have wasted our
time
, she said. My red face buried in the beast’s neck: avoiding shame & pain, 
both our shortcomings.

VIII.

She & I make a list of all the deaths in The Omen movies. We
agreed that the man on the frozen lake sucked through the hole made
by Satan was by far the worst: that cold, clear day, perfect for a
hockey game, he was at the far end with the puck when the ice list-
ed, cracked & he went under, alive while the whole team of
panicked players tried to break through to him with their sticks. They all
followed his blurred form for as long as they could. People
in the theatre, back when we saw it, held their breaths: we
tried to imagine drowning in that cold current. I had 
her write down the next worst deaths: 1. the nanny who harmed
every child at the party when she looped a noose around her neck &
jumped from the side of the stone mansion; 2. the church spire that became
red hot, electrified, impaled the priest; 3. the mother not willing
until it was too late to see her son was not her son but a jackal, & fell to
her death wrapped in a veil; 4. the photographer who could make
prophecy with his pictures, spirit photos, decapitated; 5. no amends
from the archeologist who forced his assistant into a deep tomb, crying to
God when they saw an ancient wall-painting of Damien, gold sand covering them
while they still breathed & screamed & prayed. No one heard them at all.

IX.

In another film: the Alps in the distance, smokestacks. We
see a mason pouring cement into molds he made
forming more smokestacks: the wind’s direct-
ion shifts east, north, west, warm & south, amends
its direction once again. The ash that falls down to
the townsfolks’ hair, shoulders, and tongues is such
a surprise, in the early European summer, the people
hold their palms up: Strange. Snow. Now. Wherever
is this light snow from?
It doesn’t seem possible
& it isn’t. Everybody is laughing & in awe except
the gold haired woman in black market stockings: when
she realizes what falls on her, she brings her hands to
her head, slaps herself, over & over hard, her hair-do
coming apart, ruined, the pins loosened, puffs of ash so 
thick around her head, like a nimbus, she would
take a razor to herself to be clean of the cremains, injure
her Teutonic face, bloody it. Then they all knew, all of them:
in minutes, there was screaming, pounding to get it off or
worse, those who tasted the ash, spat & spat on the others.

X.

Salem darkens inches earlier & the strands of mini-lights along the window panes we
sit by stay up all year. This is what was in the foyer of the Thai Place:

1. a gold Buddha
2. a tray of chocolates wrapped in foil
3. an egg.

The long table for twenty, the restaurant’s spine, glowed, conversation continued
up & down, across. This is what was on the table:

1. yellow lace fans unfurled under the protective glass
2. chop stick wrappers
3. smears of peanut sauce & spring roll crumbs

Beside the table, a black porcelain cat with a clock belly waves her paw to
all the guests or to nobody. This is what happened:

1. during one of those small lulls in conversation
2. someone called her out for being so controlling
3. and I laughed along with everybody, but loudest.

When you leave the Thai Place, you are asked to leave a coin & take
chocolate from the tray the Buddha holds. This is who left first:

1. she did, alone, 
2. and looked confused
3. at my laughing.

Everybody pays when a weight has been lifted. There’s nothing personal
in this transaction. This is what I felt heavy in my gut:

1. rice noodles
2. golden bags
3. cowardice.

The man who owns the Thai Place took our orders--knows the inventory
of his kitchen--without writing anything down. This is what he knows:

1. I don’t like pineapple in my seafood delight
2. I don’t like peppers, not green, not red
3. I’d been waiting for someone else to let her know what I’ve been thinking.

All the little lights tacked to the window sills reflect back onto our table and
it’s hard to see outside, the dark came so fast. These are the fall constellations:

1. Andromeda
2. Cassiopeia
3. Equuleus.

I put a small rectangle of chocolate on my tongue when 
we leave. The air’s cold & there are fake witches strung up already. I look for:

1. Lacerta, Triangulum, Pegasus
2. Cetus, Aries, Libra
3. Her.

I gather with friends in the parking lot. We
are surrounded by the night &

1. The Tabernacle Church
2. The Federal Court House (once a witches’ jail)
3. The Thai Place.

I dig my hands in the pocket of my wool coat. Were 
we wrong
? I asked. I finger:

1. the rolled-up foil wrapper
2. the strip of fortune from the cookie
3. a coin.

One of us said, She fucking bosses everybody, all the time. Am I wrong?
Or am I wrong?
This is what I try to remember:

1. yeah!
2. she’s too sensitive
3. yeah!

The day after Halloween, All Saints’ Day, the city promptly
removes the witches, the bats, the blood. The Thai Place keeps:

1. the tiny lights: gold, red, green, like jewels
2. the tray of chocolates wrapped in thin foil
3. the black cat.

Salem makes money from the witch trials. Those who admitted

their treachery did not hang. That is, they lied & lived. These things sweetest:

1. orange dipping sauce
2. cherry in a Shirley Temple
3. the sheen of gold paint on the smiling Buddha.

I like that not all the lights go out. Even at autumn’s apogee, it
never blackens. Here’s what shines all night:

1. my regret
2. the gold paint, the glass table, the porcelain paw
3. her eyes meeting mine.

XI.

The pots of basil scent the garden with spice & something dangerous. We-eds can’t take hold and choke the tender roots, the mosquitoes that sought our blood can’t penetrate the thick cloud of this herb from Genoa, won’t pass through its ancient mist. She & I don’t sit often for supper, won’t say that catholic prayer or any prayer before the meal. But we love when I grind the spiny leaves & the garlic, cheese, black pepper, the pine nuts, pignoli. Preparing pesto is my only meditation: a gentle tug from the stem, a gentle tug from the stem, & another tug, another, drop into the soft white cloth around my waist, wipe and dry. The light green/gold virgin oil, the seraphim, prove-s to me that perhaps somethings are blessed. The olive oil on the table between our white plates. So often, I am careless & I am cruel: when I use the pestle conscious-ly, I have to count, I have to use my fingertips slick with oil from the plants, contact the deep flavor in the flesh & in the veins. My cotton sack is full, pregnant with green leaves and dirt. In the classical Mediterranean world, the god-s transformed humans into animals all the time, even if only a part emerged as something other than human. I am part bird, made of hundreds of basil leaves. We smother everything with basil: angel hair, shrimp big as my fist, tubes of squid. It’s understood that we’ll save some to freeze for the winter. My cat purrs under the table. I pet him.

XII.

The man she brought to the house was having
five of everything: pomegranates, zepoli, shots, had
a scar on his cheekbone, the left, just the size of a
seed to grow an apple. Her inky solstice-spiritual-
ity, the rosary tattoo on her bony foot, awakening
annoyances in me like small red winter birds frantic as
I held out an unripe clementine. The air was tart: a
garland of bitter cranberries, heavy too, the result
of the weeping douglas fir, our sins, & the aroma of
figs baked in coconut. My own sins were like these
figs: sticky, seedy and old. I’d taken careful steps
to hide them deep in the sofa, the velvet one we
spilt our sweet coffee on, though we all really tried
to balance cups, plates on our knees. I turned to
her, remembering the spiked eggnog, how she can’t carry
her liquor the way she did her men: stuffed in this
chinois red silk bag, the one with her secret message
spelled out in golden birds. The man she brought to
my house was having five of everything: five addicts,
five ventricles, five slices of re-gifted fruit cake and
five of her tears, five of the mini blue lights to 
illuminate the wooden pentacle. We didn’t practice
gratitude, that night, on the antler’s tip of the se-
ason, the cusp of the century, yule-tide, principal-
ity of panic, almost pagan, brick-red baked-in
belief in these terrible angels. I read it all, all
of Rilke, bought a Frida Kahlo purse for our
insecurities. She was one of my hardest affairs.


Jennifer Martelli is the author of My Tarantella (Bordighera Press), as well as the chapbook, After Bird (Grey Book Press, winner of the open reading, 2016). Her work has appeared in Verse Daily, The Bitter Oleander, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and Iron Horse Review (winner, Photo Finish contest). Jennifer Martelli is the recipient of the Massachusetts Cultural Council Grant in Poetry. She is co-poetry editor for The Mom Egg Review.

 
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