Thursday, June 1, 2017

ALICIA MOUNTAIN, "HEROIC CROWN: QUEER SONNETS"




HEROIC CROWN: QUEER SONNETS
                       
                                  after Beyoncé's Lemonade

1.

In a winter dream, months ago
she came. The queen, braided and
furred, promising a betrayal song when
the time was most right, promising
your betrothal would only bend a season
for me. This train town has a howling
in the night. It is a beehive alive with
honeysuckle whispers, sweet stinging.
Your maps don’t stray like I do,
but we were both drawn to scale,
traced by your fingers for a path,
we both fold small for safekeeping.
Her prophesy said, run from your want—
whatever most right was, it waited.


2.

Whatever most right was, it waited
until I skipped town south to sink in,
to get me sprung on spring-heavy air
like breath against neck, like my long
white girl hair sticking to your sweat.
Daytime bathroom belt buckle betrayal.
Bodies inside bodies love, your hands.
Now all I have here is Virginia, weeks
and weeks of alone, in breathy Virginia.
When we were in love, men would ask
if we were sisters. What a wicked way
to deny what was already buried and plain.
How I set a snare for the life they saw
between us, held tight like too much hope.



3.

Between us, held tight like too much hope,
and thunder sounds spanking the hills,
all year was a racket. House party borrowed
bass beats and cheap tequila with no chaser,
jumping in aqueducts, down on my knees
in the locker room shower, shoved up against
locked office doors with you. Landlock
that wouldn’t hold. Drive me to the stolen
land, lake big enough to be an ocean. He can
come—he who’s in here too, to whom you
are promised, the smoke dozing in your
rafters. He can sleep in the backseat if you
give me directions. Some rough-faced boy
I would never try to steal you from.



4.

I would never try to steal you from
the hills so steep I lose my breath,
where I breathe you to keep going.
The queen tells me not to drink the
tidal push and pull from some mug
left on your bedside. Who mouthed it
last? What solemnity and grace did
they avow? To what am I entitled?
Did you name your book volcano?
The queen promises an overripe
rupture, full-court press. The most
I can say is no one’s too old for
high tops, the high-water mark,
the shore I couldn’t start to see.



5.

The shore I couldn’t start to see.
The storm I couldn’t feel until it had
soaked me through, wrung me out.
Let my pink water-wrinkled hands lift you
onto the countertop. I write to you  
from the counter at the Waffle House
closest to the Jefferson Plantation.
I watch myself on a security monitor
swiveling, my hat turned backwards.
I think I will always look like a child
when I am alone. The nearest train,
whose tracks I can’t find, stops sinister at
Lynchburg—named after a man. Hard to
believe the less terrible, even when it’s true.



6.

Believe the less terrible. Even when it’s true
that I have been sweating everyday,
shrinking a little, drinking a little less.
Even then, I wonder if my body is more
possessive of you than of itself. At the
gym I drink watered-down lemonade.
To start the stair master’s churning,
I choose a setting called Life Quest and
level 5 because what am I trying to win?
The queen in my ear doesn’t need me to bow
my head to her. The stairs collapse and
collapse beneath me. Does he build rough
hills to climb for you? Do you recognize
this book is a monument to touch?



7.

This book is a monument to touch
even with its hands in its pockets.
Even with your hair in your eyes as
disguise, there is no making public
how we push and pull in dark corners.
The beehive whispers when it sees our
hands touch, the train town howls and
howls. The rough face smiles beside yours.
Lick my teeth in the daylight. Still no
chaser. Still no closer to extinguishing
the bolt of my lightning you hold captive.
I have held the bright storm of you
hot in my hands. I would do it again,
however quick, however long it lasts.



8.

However quick, however long it lasts,
this hot breath season is for growing.
Have you cut your hair at all? Have you
turned his rough jeans into cutoffs you wear
on weekends? Is any day not a weekend
for you when the high desert burns off
its chill by lunchtime? I offer to trade you
a poem for the story of the place we pressed
our bodies together. We’ll write twin books
to outlast this. We’ll press them cover to cover.
I will tell my book that it was once in love,
even if it doesn’t remember fitting against
you as it slept. I don’t think many people
remember my body, the folded map of it.



9.

Remember my body. The folded map of it
spread out on the floor at your mother’s
house. Remember the winding road to
the rose garden and just going slow together,
stopping to smell sunscreen on my neck.
The queen says in these breathy weeks away
my panting for you has been forgotten.
But you started wearing my deodorant and,
at some rough point, he probably started
wearing it, too. In Virginia I have run out.
I am grocery store, I am shampoo as soap,
I am very little toothpaste. If I ever return
to our train town, I’ll smell like him—
whoever you love. He belongs beside you.



10.

Whoever you love, he belongs beside you.
The rupture is a slow roiling, the moan
let go by a falling tree. My volcano seeps
fire blood love up to the surface so it can
cool and dissipate, so it can run downhill.
The queen in my ear breathes heavy that I am
alone at a desk, taking what doesn’t belong
to me. I come from a long line of betrayers
who have worn many rings and read prophesy
into desire. I pretend I am good. I would
get you lost in the hot forest, I would bring
lemonade, speak thief songs to you, panting.
The queen says enough, puts me to bed
lying in your honest kind of shade.



11.

Lying in your honest kind of shade
under moaning trees older than I’ll live
to be, I roll onto my belly in a final try
to say, come with me to the high desert
where our breath will be our breath and not
the springtime breathing for us. Pack a car
with most of what you need, rough-faced
trust, hands in pockets, body inside body,
toothpaste, tequila, map worn along its
creases, smoke in rafters. Come with me.
I try to say all this by getting to my feet,
by saying very little, saying I am not lost,
I swear. The queen says lost is a sort of
somewhere. Inside me there is a swarm.



12.

Somewhere inside me there is a swarm
that wants out. If this storm is electric,
if the power goes out, wait. What has
flashed across every spring-static sky
will come again. I have paid my leap year
debts and with what’s left, cook breakfast
hot in a kitchen, kneading something
and letting it rise. If I’m being honest
I don’t know that I ever saw your eyes.  
I don’t know if you put your mouth
to my neck without looking over my
shoulder. Who is more dispossessed
than the thief? How long have I been
keeping quiet when I want to howl?



13.

Keeping quiet when I want to howl
is old work, the day labor that never
breaks me even. In some accounting,
this was worth every minute of leisure,
of lemonade, of cool, sugared wanting.
The horizon puts her feet up, stretched
out across hills that bloom, even while
they burn. There is no other queen above
her. This is no return ticket between us.
I took my body with me, took my book.
I am not trying to be good. Double knot
your high tops, turn backwards your hat.
Walk the highest hill until you see that
what you buried can’t be driven out of me.


14.

What you buried can’t be driven out of me.
The train town grasses have grown tall and
mowing sounds put me back in the secret
in your mother’s house, where I would tell you
over again how I have broken many things
in my thirst. I would lie on the floor and
give you my hands, give you my mouth,
try to hear you through your hair. Because
I am going to the desert, because you are not,
I am trying to remember your breath. I am told
we still look alike. I am told that every train town
has the same smoke in its rafters, the same
monuments, the same stairs collapsing and
collapsing, the same tide pulling at my belt.  



15.

In a winter dream, months ago,
whatever most right was, it waited
between us, held tight like too much hope.
I would never try to steal you from
the shore I couldn’t start to see.
Believe the less terrible, even when it’s true:
this book is a monument to touch,
however quick, however long it lasts.
Remember my body, the folded map of it.
Whoever you love, he belongs beside you,
lying in your honest kind of shade.
Somewhere inside me, there is a swarm
keeping quiet when I want to howl.
What you buried can’t be driven out of me.


ABOUT THE POET


Alicia Mountain is a queer poet and PhD candidate at the University of Denver. Her poems can be found in Guernica, jubilat, Prairie Schooner, Pleiades, Witness, and elsewhere. Alicia's work was nominated for a 2017 Pushcart Prize. Her unpublished full-length manuscript was a semi-finalist for the St. Lawrence Book Award and a notable manuscript for the BOAAT Book Prize. She has received received an Academy of American Poets Prize, an Idyllwild Arts Fellowship and a residency at the Virginia Center for Creative Arts. Mountain earned her MFA at the University of Montana in Missoula. 


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