Present at the Editorial Table:
PBQ Box Score: 2=0
Welcometo Episode 19 of Slush Pile!
Forthis episode, we have two “creepy” poems submitted for our Monsters Issue bySarah Kain Gutowski.
SarahKain Gutowski can't keep succulents alive and is easily distracted by allthings blue and shiny. Find her on Instagram @sarahkaingutowski to follow herannual #domesticviolenceawareness project during the month of October, or ather blog, Mimsy and Outgrabe, where she keeps a messy, irregular,sometimes profanity-laced record of her life as a writer, academic, and motherof three.
Whilethese poems, part of a suite, did not get unanimous votes, we all felt theyenveloped us into a universe of magical realism. True to the tradition of scarystories, these poems demand to be read slowly, deliberately, and out loud.Additionally, Gutowski’s work is more than simply scary. Like Kathy says,“Sometimes freaky shit happens,” and these poems force our team to consider theambiguities of life, or pre-death, as Tim puts it.
Listen to the outcome, but one thing isfor sure: these poems are stronger together.
Comment on our Facebook event page oron Twitter with #frogtongue and sign for our email list if you’re in the area,and even if you’re not!
Chapter VI: The Children Have a Request
Theseason stretched itself thin, weakened by storms and heat.
Inside the damp, shadowy space of thechildren’s fort,
the woman with the frog tongue wove basketsand bowls
with tight, interlocked laces, while her silkstitches
began to fray and lengthen. The gap betweenher lips
widened to where the children could see thewhite of her teeth.
They stared at her, sometimes; she saw themclench their jaws
and try to speak to each other without movingtheir mouths.
Beforelong they’d begin to laugh, and she’d shake with relief at the sound.
Thenone day, when the trees broke into glittering shards
of gold and red and green, and light spunpinwheels above
their heads as they walked together betweenthe falling leaves,
the girl looked at the woman and asked if shehad a name.
At this, the woman jerked to a stop. The oldsurge,
the impulse to speak that rose within herbelly and chest,
overwhelmed. She wanted the girl and boy toknow her name.
Her tongue, rolled tightly and barred frommoving inside its cage,
strainedagainst her teeth and cheeks, contorting her face with its rage.
Theboy stepped back when he saw the change on the woman’s face.
The girl moved closer, though, to pat thehand she held
like she might a frightened kitten orskittish, fallen bird.
Let’sguess your name, she said. The woman’s jaw fell slack,
as much as the stitches allowed. Her panicpassed away.
The boy saw her relax and began to hoparound.
A game, a game,he chanted. Across her eyes the sun
sliced its blade, and though her vision bledwith its light,
shefelt cheered by the girl’s hand and the boy’s excitement.
Aurora. Jezebel. Serafina, guessed the girl.
Her brother laughed and grabbed a fallen branch,whacking
the moss-covered roots of the treessurrounding them.
The woman laughed, too, short bursts of airthrough her nose.
Her happiness shocked them all. The boylaughed again,
a raucous sound, and she looked the littlegirl in the eye.
A curve tested her mouth’s seams, moregrimace than grin,
but the girl smiled back and sighed with somerelief. Then she reached
towardthe woman and pulled her close, until they were cheek to cheek.
Thegirl’s face, cold and smooth, smelled of the moss and earth
her brother lashed and whipped with vigorinto the air.
The woman with the frog tongue hugged thegirl loosely,
as if those little shoulder blades wereplanes of cloud,
a shifting mist she could see and feelbetween her arms
but couldn’t collect, or hold, or keep forher very own.
The girl stepped back yet kept her hands bythe woman’s face.
Her small, thin fingers hovered before thefraying threads.
Why don’t you take these out? she asked, as she touched each raggedend.
Atthis the boy stopped his joyful assault of the trees
and ran to see for himself what theydiscussed each night
when walking home: her muffled, chokedmurmurings,
the gray lattice unraveling across her mouth.
He peered closely at each loose stitch,searching beyond
her lips for whatever monster she’d locked sopoorly inside.
He found no monster, just a hint of pinktongue.
So he shrugged, said Yes, and spun on his heel to resume his game.
Thegirl jumped up and down, shouting: Andthen you’ll tell us your name!
Thewoman watched the boy whip tree roots free of moss,
the tufts spinning into the air andseparating,
becoming dust, the dark green spores likebeaks of birds
that plummet toward the rocky earth withoutfear.
She watched the girl’s hair lift and fly awayfrom her head,
the wind dividing its strands, the way ithung, suspended
like dust in the sun, then sank like spores:a sudden drop.
She worked her mouth from side to side, andby degrees
openedher lips enough to burble a sound that said: Maybe.
Chapter VII: She Grows a Second Heart
Thatnight she woke to find another oddity:
during sleep her heart had split or twinneditself,
and where one muscle pumped before, now beattwo.
Her blood coursed through her veins twice asfast as before,
and over those paths her skin buzzed andstammered, like wire
strung tautly between two poles and chargedwith load.
As if she’d run for miles across rollinghills,
as if inside her chest two fists beat timeall day,
beneaththe bone she sped at death in the most alive way.
Theday crawled while her two hearts raced. Above the fire
she set a series of clocks to ticking. Shewatched the flames,
sometimes leaning close enough to feel theheat
singe her stitches a deeper shade, theirfibers scorching
until they curled, like dark froth spillingfrom her mouth.
But when her hearts began to flicker more,and faster
than she could stand, she turned her eyes tothe clocks’ marked faces
and drew comfort from the second hands’neurotic twitch.
Everyminute witnessed meant another minute lived.
Beneathher breastbone her strange second heart pulsed harder.
She sensed the muscle, like her tongue, wouldleap and fly
away from her body if her body let it go.
She took the silver-handled knife and inciseda cross
above the cavity where her hearts balloonedtogether,
jostling for room and dominance. The flaps ofskin,
pale as egg shell, trembled slightly. A headappeared.
A bird with obsidian eyes emerged wet withher blood,
shookto shed its burden, and leapt toward the rafters above.
Shewatched the bird and felt air seep into the space
it left behind, her single heart unrivaledbut lonely
in its great room. The wound bled slowly,healing fast
to a pale silver scar, flaps falling back toclose
neatly over the bone, which laid itself again
like lines of track or scaffolding across herchest.
The bird flew to the window’s sill, andticked its head
to look back at the woman. A slight breeze,cool and calm,
caressedits dark wings, and it leapt for the steady branch of that arm.