Wild, Cultured, Imitation
from the words allotted to Pearl in The Scarlet Letter
No letter today, but my mother’s left a message to meet in the same haunts as always. This time, she will not teach me to be sad, to be strange. She will look over the faces in this town and know my face as good as any.
A grown-up put a pen in my hand to send my talking away. I would not write of the chase, the catch, how his whole arm could not hold me down. The man had looked kind. I had been under his sure hands, very deep did he pluck me. What else would I tell you? A true story is an ugly story.
About the nighttime: black, heavy clasps, but the day a jailer, too, washed in a sunny strip of flame. Of the house I could not flee: no fancied forest cottage, its chimney sighing into the noontide sky. To mark a world: my mother’s murmuring, tempered by many a man’s hands, set out for the people to see. Here, everybody is watched the same. Now, when I say my body keeps itself afraid, remember what I hold back for you. [End Page 96]
Origin Story: No Witches, No Woodsmen
My parents once dreamt paradise on earth, heaven for the elect. What better folly have I leapt
upon, clinging to a stand of trees, evergreen, all teeth. When I was on the edge of wandering,
no one called me home. I worshiped wrong gods, but gods still: spruces that tossed their untamed slashes of hair,
soft moss made to lure me there and leave me alone. In the forest, there were no witches, no woodsmen,
only wolves and children. Born both, I held myself captive. If there was to be an escape, it meant
inventing the axe. It meant cleaving this body of blood and meat from the beast’s ache to eat and eat. [End Page 97]
Origin Story: Garden of the Fugitives
To rescue myself, I had to burn our house down, metals turned to shimmering liquid. It dazzled, molten and glowing. I could not leave the mountains
and mantle to their own devices, let magma find its way to cooling, to pyroclastic rock, to sulfur, ash. I sprung furious the lava
that paced leonine, feasted and slow. You could not know how long it took to arrive here, to burst forth. You could not know the heat beneath us, and shouldn’t. [End Page 98]
Spell to Leave Behind a Life
Nothing was basic in that place, the fence triple concertina, the dirt I carved into trenches, burrowed with my bare arms, each mark I made a stay against the fire, bombardment in the dark. What I return to is home. What I call Spartan is so because I had to prepare, make ready for war, fitted with nothing but a bed, a sheath for my sword. What I once called peace dissolved easy, fat on my tongue, dusted fine powder over the sleep where my teeth would bury themselves in each other. Home became a story best told at dusk, thread sharpened with spit, needle meant to suture but first to pierce. I left as carrion leaves the animal who once believed flesh necessary for life. I sliced my pelt, slit it wide enough for home to slip through that opening made by my hand, my knife. [End Page 99]
Jennifer Perrine is the author of No Confession, No Mass (U. Nebraska Press, 2015), winner of the Publishing Triangle Audre Lorde Award and the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry. Previous books include In the Human Zoo (U. Utah Press, 2011) and The Body Is No Machine (New Issues, 2007). Perrine lives in Portland, Oregon. For more information, visit www.jenniferperrine.org.