Recent Work By Lisa Rae Cunningham

The Zohar on my shelf. What good
to a Roman Catholic? Some kind of atheist, I
dismember my altar. The last supper I ate
at home with my son across a vintage table,
its carcass discovered in an alley’s sunken doorway
years ago, one leg broken. Imagine wood glue.
Resurrection in a Venice Beach apartment. Now
I kick the legs out from under it, like the dog’s
arthritic bellyflop. It’s in my son’s face.
The morning it was euthanized. The meal
we won’t share here tonight. He laughs
the way kids laugh when they know
what lives four leagues under the sea,
glowing in the dark. Ridiculous, this grief.
Over a table (we play Scrabble. We drink water.
We open Christmas gifts. We read. Play cards. We
color Easter eggs. Blow out candles. We argue
over homework. Write in journals. Wear pajamas.
We mix batter for cinnamon muffins. We) feel
the wood is a tree. It’s not rotten like a human
corpse. Deranged, discarded, replaced
with emptiness. There is so much space
to create. I slide my futon mattress
into its new corner under the window.
Privacy. How strange. I show my son the image,
a hand-carved shoji screen from India,
made of teak. To hide my bed, make room for
guitars and an easel in the living room. Sex
in the dining room. Finally, the oddly situated
ceiling fan is centered over something.
It makes me laugh. More death.

The deepest lake dried up
millenniums ago. Stand at its edge
in windblown dust and watch
dinosaurs crash across the land.
Pterodactyl flies thirsty for water.
It’s a memory then too.
A mirage, like God, seated
cross-legged in a desert, huge
bowl of rainwater in his lap.
Grand Canyon without the miracle
of river to cut clean into Earth.
Carved rock gapes, a parched throat
sending echo into sky
when a baby cries for milk.
I fall like shadow in this place.
Desolate but for beauty
and without reason. The mind’s implications
vacate where I cast my spell.
I struggle to serve lunch
to my child, whose talk thunders
like a distant storm.
I rise to see the lightning bolt.
Teems of water wash that far-off place,
and I long to drown.

Why do I refine myself?
It is discipline, grace I need
from language as quickly bent,
rusted with corrosive saliva
in another mouth, disintegrated
in some other thought.
It is a work of hands too.
I whittle a desperate notion
as the salty sailor becomes
delicate, patiently carves
his intricate scrimshaw
in thunderstorms and sunrise.
A turning of days alive on a horizon.
No land in sight.  Earth, a comfort
my body longs to press, comes
only as an idea.  Home.  A nebulous
fiction behind the eyes.
Maybe I search for You.
Evidence.  A generation of elegance
so I dress and decorate, impose
a wayward resonance
on some ragged minstrel’s bones.
When tomorrow might crumble
in a landslide of coquina sands
and the ocean drain
to a sultan’s sewage,
I seek a Promethean light.
Sift the ragpicker’s wares, find
truth in meticulous inscription,
the courage of sculpted ivory,
redemption when the troubadour’s song
is devoured for eternity.

It was in a diner on a Saturday
When I decided it was over.
I’ve all this shit going on, I told Cindy.
I really think we’re better off as friends.

Cindy was on my side because she always is
Which is why I tell her everything.
That makes sense, she said,
He’ll understand that.  How could he not understand that?

I didn’t want to go with Lyle anymore.
But you know how he is, I said.
Cindy nodded gravely.
Really, I never told her the truth.

Lyle always got fatal over break-ups.
It was always about soul mates and my loss
And how fuck-ing stupid I was being.
And why did I always have to cry?

What do you think he’ll do? Cindy said.
Her eyes were round and watery,
like a pair of eggs
Shocked to find themselves sunny side up.

I tried to imagine him, doing something.
I pictured his eyes, lids hung at half-mast,
A disgusted look on his face.
Maybe he’d yell something generic.

He’ll probably threaten suicide again, I said,
Like I’d called a real high-rolling bluff
And won.
He’ll go crazy.

He’s such an asshole, Cindy said,
I mean, he can be.  Her voice softened.  Oh.
I know, I said to Cindy.
I huffed and pretended I couldn’t eat.

Lyle is out with his buddies tonight.
He’ll call me later and tell me he scored some smack.
He’ll tell me to relax, he’s not gonna die tonight.
He’ll tell me to hold on while he pukes.

And I will.
I’ll hold on.