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Fell Year by Kelly Sullivan

Fell Year

 

1.

 

As if there was snow. Petals across the paths,

knee deep of them, the flowers battered

in a gale and lightning

 

raked across the patch of sky

between apartment blocks behind.

Only the alliums standing in scattered ranks

 

but upright after attack.

The slate flags heather and black

in their slick and the feet across

 

slapping bare, slapping bare, slapping bare

until the grass goes soft under the hardened heel.

At the far fence post beneath the fringe

 

of plum now bared a weight

of petals for a weight of rain, at the angle of rotted fence

caught down the cant of the neighbor’s lawn

 

the compost sits in half-broken

tanks like vats of dung. The wooden cover

lifts off with heft, rain-sodden under

 

its sift of petals, and the waste

bangs in, the cover on, the body turns to go.

And turns to go and turns to find

 

flung across the muddy path the wet flint

rag of a rat: a rust of blood tags

its face and its outstretched tongue. Turn away,

 

turn away but return with the sweep and shovel

and toss the stiff thing— look first at angles

for peering eyes — drop it

 

into the leaf rot of a decade sifted in the corner

of the other’s yard: shift the leaves

to cover, disturbing the petal’s snow.

 

 

 

2.

 

All day writing. No one in it. The house settling

on its anchors, the rooms full of old tenants’ ghosts

at the coal stoves now patched holes

 

in pine floors. Gin and tonics, limes, the smell of thyme

muddled on mortar and pestle

and the words in order.

 

Coming in order, words like holograms seen through,

some shattered image of an earlier you

warming your hands at a soapstone hearth.

 

The glass settles hard on the marble of the patio predella

and the gin slops in a mouth. Words out a mouth

uttered and withdrawn

 

laid out on pages to imprint their skins.

Wrapped in linens. Decked in the family’s coffers

with the snaking procession across

 

the city. Rivers in their greeny flesh

absorbing chemicals and tar. A world’s funeral.

And from the far side of the patio

 

a rabbit pauses as if to think through

the longer haul to warrens in the knotty

dense of leaves and compost.

 

His head is high. He sniffs the air and the tawny

fur ripples. When he turns again to take in

the no one in this place

 

you see his leg hangs half-off, a rabbit-foot

charm on a shrivel of dried skin

he drags across the sodden grass.

 

 

 

3.

 

Two of them walked together in maple woods,

but neither was present. They crossed

the stone walls laid up years ago of granite

 

from scattered glaciers when some mute

hill farmer cleared fields out of this muck.

Twice a dog scared up a grouse

 

and then the pair of dogs,

snouts lifted to scent, careened south

against the ridge and flushed five deer,

 

tails flagging. The couple called and the maples

bound their voices back against the hills

so even they had lost direction.

 

When the two figures dropped out into the flats

and walked the hard-pack road the dogs

returned, flecked with blood

 

and spit, smiles to the depths of their jaws,

dog-trotting behind, obedient beasts

again. Where the roads diverged

 

the man put his hand to her shoulder and said

look there and in the crook of a tree,

split in two trunks, she saw

 

the tattered hide of deer

hung about a skeleton stuck there,

weathered, for years

 

pinned halfway through

its ill-judged leap

across the maple’s heart,

 

a thin rib cage

lodged where the trunks divided

but grew aligned.

 

 

 

4.

 

Write all day. There was no snow. Outside

the sunlight streams across the garden’s

plashy coves, the crisp of hedge,

 

the wicket fence, the crunch of gravel not of ice,

no cold, no cold, it was summer. Remember?

And the flowers turned

 

their heads to ground at midday and the birds

swung back and forth between the porch

and plum and in the glass a spider

 

thought to build a web and touched the water,

curled against herself and drowned.

Drink up. But when you see

 

the decimate body remember the honey smell

of decay with you all day in the study

and take the bucket of waste

 

to compost. When you reach for the hatch

to uncover the bin you see it: a bloated

rat laid out on the lid

 

as a funeral pyre, his tail curved

back to his mouth to echo

the hollows where his eyes had been.

 

You know he sees winter trees, the thousand

floaters in your eyes when you look away

to the flat white sky.

 

 

 

5.

 

And so return to the winter city.

Linear, orderly, grid and industry,

the park bisected at angles by paved

 

paths where rats make plunder

in the manicured grass and we walk on

beyond and beyond, no need to measure

 

their parallel world to ours. Take the stairs

eight flights up, away from the city’s angles

an apartment like an animal’s hovel:

 

this place to shit, this place to nest,

dander, dust, and dirt accumulate, a smell

of sweat or industry, places rank and feral.

 

Turn and turn in a warren in the bed

and grow warm in the down and the dirt

and dream, as they do, of your dying and your dead.

 

 

 

Kelly Sullivan teaches Irish literature at New York University. She has poetry and short fiction in Salmagundi, Poetry Ireland Review, Southword, The Hopkins Review, and elsewhere. Her pamphlet, Fell Year, is forthcoming from Green Bottle Press in April 2017. You can find her at KellyESullivan.com.

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