Wendy Merrick Burbank

Language of Blood

The day of Mrs. Markowski’s long walk
was in the summer of 1956. That night
my father performed the bloodless extraction
of yet another baby tooth that clung jealously
to one thin thread of tissue and fear
while I eluded capture

and the dry handkerchiefed grip
by slipping into the woods
or below the dam, roaming
the railroad tracks,
hoping to be the child he forgets
he has at least until the errant appendage

can give itself over to a ripe pear or clot of pudding.
Nevertheless, once again I find myself bleating
in the eerily luminous operating theater,
upstairs bathroom by day, set upon a high stool,
presumably for optimal torque,
while he stands before me winsomely,

white cotton handkerchief in hand. Afterwards
my mother said your father had quite the day
today. It was the same day Mrs. Markowski
walked a mile down Boston Neck Road
in July river-valley heat with blood
splattered on her apron and the faded flowers

of her housedress, and blood mingled with sweat
streaked into the grey curls at the top of her forehead.
In her right hand she carried the severed tip
of her left middle finger wrapped
in a white cotton handkerchief, the floodgate
of the finger remaining stanched in a blood-soaked rag.

She walked until she found my father
in his garden. The Polish woman
and the Canadian man had no language
for this meeting. He took her in his arms,
sat her down on the soft grass
and took her package.

The Myth of the Javelinas

in my first memory of you
you are sitting on the café piazza
and your eyes leave your book and gaze
absently at me and they are painted Cerulean
it was the sun’s ruse that day to anchor
your eyes in my mind’s eye as opaque blue
for they are neither opaque nor blue
they are pellucid green
and soon I saw right through
them to your unprotected thoughts

a whole year later I sat upright
legs outstretched ankles crossed
on the tousled bed of our first rented room
the tossed-off counterpane everywhere underfoot
from the chair you said “I love your hair”
and the smell of you was all over me
on my fingers and palms
in my philtrum
in the fabric of my thin summer gown

another year later
all that week in the desert
I looked for the Javelinas
you said might come
blind and musky
exotic and primeval
to feed on roadside grasses
in the cool of morning and the cool
of dusk and to rest in thickets at mid-day

I saw mythic land
volcanic necks
monoliths polished by millennia
formation by intrusion upon intrusion
geologic time laid out naked
and burnt by the sun
and I searched and waited
but I saw no mythic animals
it’s in the blood to want to see a panther
on a high rock and not care about native danger
because we want our lives to be about something else

the epochs of our love affair are as mythic
as antique sand and the star-blown sky
and the thirsty Chisos Mountains
and the Javelinas
I still look for you and wait for you
the way I looked and waited for the Javelinas

situation at home unbearable

he left home at seventeen
there was too much
accumulated grief
too much responsibility
if he crossed his legs
from left to right
if he wound his scarf
from right to left
looked out the window
before five o’clock
let Chopin play
inside his head
or if he did everything right
but the rules changed
or it rained
then his father
would come home drunk

he found himself
in a Douglas Skyraider
in the air above Italy
rehearsing for a war
somewhere else
flying at three hundred
miles per hour
nose pointing straight
down at the earth

he could make a lit cigarette
float in the cockpit
evanescently weightless
and catch it in his mouth
so the story went
and he felt lucky
when he remembered
his mother said
you go ahead
a family can collapse
on itself and people
sometimes get crushed

About the Author

Wendy Merrick Burbank's writing has been published in Naugatuck River Review, Narrowsburg River Reporter Literary Gazette, and Fed1a: a digital display of ideas and information, and heard on the Conflict of Interest Theater Company Podcast. Her writing is forthcoming in Minerva Rising and Splattered Ink Press’s Celebrating Animal Rescue Anthology. She has been a featured writer at: Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs, NY; BoCoCa Arts Festival in Brooklyn; and Catskill Mountain Foundation Center for Literary Arts. She lives and writes in the Helderberg Mountains in upstate New York, and works on a large farm in the Schoharie Valley.

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