Nipples, Ribs, and Helixes
The point at which incarceration becomes inhuman
begins at the body. First boundary we come up against:
mouth, breast, ripe nipple. A shark tooth betwixt
her clavicles, her hair helixing down, my plum mouth
puckered for suckling. Hospital search lights turn on,
he presses my mother’s hand, gunshot residue rubs off,
or so, I imagine.
Let’s catalogue all I have left:
a picture of him holding her pregnant belly, a ring,
a few notebooks, two bronze shoes, one book on gems,
one on disguises, one wallet stuffed with counterfeit twenties,
and a hand gun.
For three weeks, I knew the particular click
of gears inside his chest. For twelve years, I practiced forgetting.
All I remember about the single prison visit was how like a pair
of singer’s lips my dress was red, and the men tried to teach
me to play chess, to move those little pawns forward like
Till finally, in my grandmother’s garden we calculate
the circumference of our arms, my head not far from his,
his ribs, a series of handles and inside—
stolen pocket watches.
Hymns, Mountains, and Dead Men
Skinny as a Chicago alley, my body
drifting across the soft porous stone before an altar,
never could believe in anything
but hymns written by dead men
congregating in the larynx of a child’s mouth, to my left
a woman so wrinkled through her scars
have faded into the background.
What a relief to degrade like leaves into mulberry,
marigold, toffee and burnt sugar caramel
and then into that white of mountain peaks.
I wonder if there are pictures of people climbing mountains
in prisons, that corporate conception of ‘fortitude,’
wonder how thick my dad’s mattress was,
wonder if he had mine and sis’s pictures tacked up,
our dresses blue as a high window,
our teeth over-sized and gapped,
it takes a while to grow into the body, but once you’re there
you’re stuck, and it’s just you and that prison guard
walking back and forth across your chest, watching you
rub out all the aches out of your joints, shining a light
on what is clutched in your hand, watching you
as you brush everyday out of your teeth.
Summer always noisy with neighbors in our Northside alley,
bays wide open, my friends’ fathers
cleaning out their garages- tossing boxes
of lightbulbs fitting no sockets, wheel rubbers from bicycles,
stuck-up stock families in the picture frames,
useless matter pushed down into the basement
then out into the garage, where the men felt more at home anyway.
We kept dad in the garage for almost a decade
in a small cardboard box, used to eat me up at night,
still does I guess, his whole self rattling
if you shook it, do they also send the metal
that must melt off the cavities, and the teeth?
Is enamel so reducible, what happens to the teeth dammit,
I want his jawbone, I want to hold its disjointed
mandible in my hand, it probably
would weigh as much as a carrot yet be so dense and sharp
you could cut a hole in the wall with it
see that mountain that was never there.
Anita Olivia Koester is the author of the chapbook Marco Polo, forthcoming with Hermeneutic Chaos Press. Her poetry is published or forthcoming in Tahoma Literary Review, Unsplendid, Forth, HEArt, Clarion, and elsewhere. She is a 2016 Pushcart Nominee, and winner of the First Night Evanston Poetry Contest. Her writing has been supported by Vermont Studio Center, Art Farm and SAFTA. She lives in Chicago with her books and her Australian Shepherd. anitaoliviakoester.com