Before you wake up,
tell me the one again about how you died—
about how blood clotted your throat shut—
show me just where
your skull gave—
I'll show you how a living arm extends from
a dead man's shirt—
Before you wake up, dream us back again—
writhe of watersnakes, we
found balled above the flood—
the hornet's nest in flame—you stoop
and I pinch the venom sack to pluck
a stinger from your eye—
Twined to the swing set a line of squirrels—
my arms bloodless by
the time I yank the last pelt free—
you watch as dusk lowers its wet
paunch onto the grass—
My shred shirt crimsons in the crown
of the tulipifera you close
to kill me with—the saw idling
for a moment while you gauge
from uphill my injuries—
then the loop of steel teeth snarling
into wood—
a blue fume of burnt oil the engine exhales—
Tell me something in dust-mouth
before day's ingot arrives to dress
us in its wound, before the sky
is radiation and there's too much
earth—I'll tell you I love you so much
I'll strike a fire
in your whiskers with my fists—
tell me there's nothing to drink
and I'm going to lean on you,
press my muzzle in deep—
Bathwater kettled from the woodstove—
dropped to my bath,
from the hole you left
after the pipes froze, the rat—blind
without glasses I lower in
and she bites—I'll catch her neck
and hold her until she drowns—
behind the sheet rock
her pink litter pulses still—
The hawk ratchets down its zero in the sky
until all the chickens
voice the same high, drawn-out call—
more croak than cluck
or crow—a sound that in their language means
death descends—
The fly sharpens her leg on an eyelash—
MHz distend from
a wooden box—
the snake that does not exist swallows always
the one that does—
Night meets day—we are stitched together
like a mouth—if the blue-
black lips are cut apart, what will extend itself?
My father's last breath rose hot in the room
and one standing
over him stooped to push his jaw shut—
before I wake up, tell me
the one again about the caught trout
lowered back into the stream,
how it fanned red smoke
into the water with its gills—

Jeff Baker is originally from a place in Tennessee called Smokey Branch—near the birthplace of the Cherokee genius Sequoyah— and has earned degrees from Tennessee Tech and the Iowa Writers' Workshop. During school, he worked in all the following sorts of factories: windshield, airplane seat, boat seat, refrigeration compressor, airbag, steering column, meat processing, mushroom, chocolate, and toothbrush. Some of his recent poems have appeared, or are forthcoming, in Blackbird, The Cream City Review, Copper Nickel, Washington Square and The Southern Poetry Anthology, Volume VI: Tennessee. His work has been a finalist for a number of book prizes, including the Bakeless Prize and the National Poetry Series. He lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Boxcar Poetry Review - ISSN 1931-1761