Three Poems by Jean Prokott

BIRTH

And at night, Uncle Duane would sleep
with the upstairs window open in the farmhouse,
let the wet, August night saturate the sheets
and listen for the gurgling cries of the heifer
from her slot in the hot barn.

And when he heard the pain of the cow’s echo—
not the lull like the slow buzzing
of bees but like someone blowing
into a trumpet—he would pull on his jeans,
bend his fat middle over to tie his boots
in the dark, and shuffle to the barn.

And when he got to the barn, flipped
on the heavy, dull light, when the hay
particles settled, he’d see two of the four legs,
pink with slime, sticking out and bent at the knees,
the hooves yellow and gray and soft.

And he pulled it out, wrapped a chain
around the body and yanked, once he could.
But before he could, he had to stick his arm in
up to the elbow, and shift the calf’s body, coax him.
The heifer cannot crane her neck
to look behind, she can only rattle her tongue
and trumpet.

And when the calf was born, Uncle Duane caught him
so he wouldn’t drop into the blood-shit soup
in the gutter below. The calf is slime and smile.
Duane carries him like a sack of feed
and lowers him down in front of his mother,
who tongues him clean. Duane showers in the barn,
scrubs the stink from his arms. Tomorrow
he will take the hardened afterbirth, like jerky,
and feed it to the dogs. Tonight, he will go
back to sleep, fresh from the shower.

CAPTAIN EDUCATION ADDRESSES HER TWO FAVORITE STUDENTS (THIS YEAR)

You just sent me an email titled Poop. Last month, you literally
peed your yoga pants in class from laughing too hard. I told everyone I knew.

Next year, you will graduate, then you’ll move out, then you’ll say something cruel
to your best friend, then your cat will die of cancer, then you’ll interview for a job in an awkward suit,

and then, some random day, say, your wedding day, you’ll pull your gown’s silk and lace
over your waist and think back to the day you were young and decided to email

your teacher Poop. Thank you for thinking of me. It is the fur you grow into, the fading spots,
11th grade, it is the decision to lick the icicle because fuck the world, it is black or white,

win or lose, it is searing pain when your chin hits the asphalt and why would you wear a helmet
when you rode your boyfriend’s skateboard down the 11th Street hill?

Fuck that hill. This chin scar is the shiiiiiiiiiiiit. Everything heals, and quickly. The truth is
when I read that email I was alone, drunk on Jameson, and wrapped in blankets. It is January

and you think I am old, and you are right. Teachers have nothing to do but live in simile,
so here’s a reminder that all of the natural world is really about you. History exists to show you

a lesson about who the fuck you are, so quit volleyball and go to the library. Listen to NPR. Vote
for politicians who remind you of yourself on the good days, take a philosophy class,

and pick fights with people who don’t believe in Absurdism. I wish someone had taught me this.
Instead, my teachers told me that one day I would soar, to look at my potential. That’s such

a stupid thing to say. That is not a lesson. Life is a peripheral mess. I’m telling you that one day
you will wrestle creatures and pee your pants again and blame your mother for your depression

and break shit and fail to slam on the brakes, and you will collect and categorize moments from your past you’ve decided to douse in flames, and you will sniff the debris like cocaine, or shake it into your cuts,

or rub it into your gums, desperate for its offering. This is not meant to be a spiritual experience,
it is only your homework. Last night, I dreamt someone baked my own teeth into cookies and fed them

to me. This part is not a metaphor. This is simply what we do when we become who we are.

OUR PROBLEMS ARE THE SAME SIZE AS US, AND THAT’S OKAY

Our houses are never clean, but we’re not too worried about it.
Our oil needs to be changed, and we’ll do it tomorrow, or maybe Friday after work.
We’re fatter than we want, but Cheetos exist, so there’s nothing we can do.
Our bank accounts are embarrassing, and I’m out of fucks to give.
It only snowed two inches, so we can leave it until it melts.
We sleep in too late, but the sun has betrayed us so many times.
Our student loans are immortal and blood-sucking, so we’ll keep getting transfusions.
We’re hemorrhaging money anyway, casual hundos here and there.
Our animals are extensions of us, and you know what, we’re not sorry for that.
Sure, they run away. But if the gate is open, you take the opportunity.
If the snow bank is high enough, you climb it and jump over.
We drive around and look for each other. Bones always lure us back.

 

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