Melissa Atkinson Mercer

Neither do I speak when I should:

culpable, amphibious: my slug-tongue glimmered in the bloodroot,

the blue gardenias of my lungs


heavy with divination: how from cacophony I formed the embryos of wolves


inside the womb of the forbidden wood

of my mouth’s only prophet.


No one said to me, come. No one said, use what you have.


No one said, when we asked for you—truly, darling—

this was what we most desired.



Darling, if I had to guess

I’d tell you my heart valves were a set of butcher’s knives,


that we each of us

must leave something behind in this earth.


My own mother was capricious: gave us fire bugs: the fury of a thousand eyes.


And her mother: the mountain:

the arthritic flower of her spine. Believe me,


what you ask now, I ask always and again: how can anyone trust the body


if we can’t know what crawls

antlered from the white ash?




Girl; animal; ghost

I had a wasp nest not a face; a pearl branch not a face; a fish song not a face.


My birch grove resplendent with bees. Leviathans crossing

under the churches. Careful: the blooded floor, my mother says,


knifing the rusted whales. Of course I wasn’t there; you would have seen me


tending the carcasses with mud and scarves. Later:

tearing out the bones for soup. Burning the oil in colored bowls. Yes,


nothing could be worse, nothing less forgivable than waste.



Melissa Atkinson Mercer is the author of the chapbooks Storm Was Her Voice (dancing girl press, 2016) and After the Miracle Season (forthcoming, ELJ Editions, 2017). Her work has also appeared or is forthcoming in The Fem, Bone Bouquet, Hermeneutic Chaos, and others. She has an MFA from West Virginia University and currently lives in the mountains of North Carolina, between a trout stream and a cemetery.

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