Leda & the Swan


            After Richard Siken & Ocean Vuong // For J. & T.


Every morning the stones on the sternum: opening.

          Every morning another chapter where the hero

                      is a woman slurred between forested fatigues, the flesh of her stomach

         unspooling into yarn.

                                                       Who is the cannibal now?

                      Every morning the birds falling backwards out of the sky

                                like a film in reverse, the feathers collecting

                                                         in my palms like rosary beads.

                                    How I could bless the sin out of my ribs

                      Dear So-and-So: I’m sorry I never answered your calls.

Dear So-and-So: I’m sorry I answered your call

                      & wept like a storm drain for six years, the receiver

                                    a canefield emptied of its plumage.

                                                                    You want a better story.

                                                                                           I understand.

                                             Who wants to hear a story
                                                                                 where the subject

                                                                      is an empty room, a closed door?

The mountains in Fujian, then, where some grandmother of mine

                      incubates herself with a prayer softened by waiting, her sons

                                    folded beneath her sternum. Like a nun on fire,

                      opening towards her God, her white blouse spread across the stone pillars

                                                       like mist into the lungs. Or Victory Strikes &

                                    procaine lifted to my grandfather’s lips

                                                       to bless himself out of the air,

                                                          burn the night sky into prophecy:

                                                                                 an augur

                                                                        scrying for his daughter’s pallid face.


a woman in a San Francisco night, her black eyes

         gleaming like Orion, rising to meet you.

                      Her red dress unfurling beneath your hands.


Dear So-and-So: you’ve never been to San Francisco,

         & this is not a happy ending.

Dear So-and-So: there is no happy ending,

                                                                            no slain dragon or high priestess or gleaming knight

                                               waiting at the end of this sentence

                                                          to gather you against their breast, kiss you on both

                                    of your cheeks, everyone weeping, everyone saying,

         my dear So-and-So, we were just kidding,

                                                          real life is so much better than this.
         Dear So-and-So, when we were in the psych ward

                      everyone asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up

                                    & everyone said happy but we all meant autocannibal.

                            I remember all those boys with eyes that say Run, Run, Run.

Dear So-and-So, I remember the story so well.

         Your lips brown & chapped like the bark of a baobab,

                      our palms coated with patina. How we sat in the sun

         and watched birds plummet, beak-first, into the concrete,

                      Apollo blazing the sun through our hands.

                                    So-and-So, they called me dogeater & Philomela,

                                                 tongue dissolving through my fingers

                                    into Atlantic spume, all my dead friends

                      passing through me like a summer wind. My neck

                                    a cardinal between their teeth.

         That day someone had tried to smash the psychiatric windows

                      like shucking a coconut, then cut himself open & fleshed into the ground.

So-and-So, these were the first stones.

         Dear So-and-So,

                      here is the day where you call my mouth aripiprazol

         & tear your cousins into roots. Here is your tongue, not a tongue.

                                    Your body unsure if it wants to become a body.

         Here’s the moment you named serotonin, a torch

                      whittled between your lips,

                                                       your mouth an exit wound.

Dear Forgiveness,

         sit down at the table

                                    & let me anoint you with patchouli & salts.

         Dear Forgiveness:

                      Won’t you come in, scorch the ward into a cathedral

         of red-lipped sky.

             I know, So-and-So. The world is a big place. We were all just kidding.

                                                                          Come in.

                                                                There are so many things I want to tell you.

Kathryn Hargett is a college kid from Alabama, Pushcart-nominee, and Kundiman fellow in poetry. She is the editor-in-chief of TRACK//FOUR, a literary magazine for people of color. Her work has been published by or is forthcoming from Anomaly, the Adroit Journal, the Blueshift Journal, A-Minor Magazine, Cosmonauts Avenue, and elsewhere.