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.
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uttered and withdrawn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.
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.
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.
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.