To Grin Macabre
Some are scared of the starved, others
arch away in awe, afraid what we have
will catch. A few hover close, fruit flies thirsty
to lick up tips—hopeful
to become one of us. When your scaffolding
begins to show, it’s not all at once.
First the bottom rung of ribs
peek out like a shy debutante. Next,
maybe your cheek bones protrude
a little more than they should, a sudden
pergola riding where baby fat cheeks
used to pudge (where the apples
once blossomed). Hold out your hands—
press your fingers together tight.
Can you see the rays? Skinny enough
and it bursts like heaven between the bars, only
your knuckles can touch. Beautiful, right?
But here’s what they don’t tell you: People
start falling away as easily
as your hair down the drain. Nobody knows
how to talk to a skeleton. All bones, it’s hard
to work your tongue. Hold on
to friendships. Make love
when your stomach’s raging in the empty.
So let us go,
let me burrow deep into the earth
where I belong and the others like me
turn in their graves, disturb their plots
to grin macabre at the newcomer.
All the Ways
just because we’re quiet
doesn’t mean we aren’t railing inside.
We ate herring in red coats and I told you
all the ways I’d kill myself, how
your lips were wilder than the moon.
It’s a lie
that we’re born alone, die alone.
through slick thighs,
wet bellies, and maybe
we’ll never see our mothers again. Maybe
she’ll stick to us like burned
batter all our lonely lives. And we’ll die
with all those lovers, gone
mothers, animals that licked our hurts
knotted like stowaways
in the most secret
desolate chambers of our hearts.
They escort us, shaking
straight into the luminous.
Should Whiskey Write a Love Letter Back
I love whiskey, adore
everything about it. The ritual,
my favorite dense tumbler, the taste
that brings me back to nineteen. All the bad
up neat as tombstones. I’m here
for the scent of tar still clinging dumb
to vinyl stools. For the dim
and the din only the last bar
in town without a television
can muster. I love it enough to be whole
with one, some nights need it
to fill me all the way up. When the tour guide
in Lynchburg told us,
with the strong stuff,
you hug the amber in your mouth
along your tongue
for six seconds,
it all made sense. My apex
can tame that wandering,
my body the wild
my parents birthed into me, the root
of all my best failures. It asks less
than a winning bull ride,
this feral purring down my throat.
The Wrong Kind of Indian
I keep the smudged Pendleton blanket
nestled like a Christening gown in the hope
chest. It’s green, smoked
with sage and cedar, blessed
by a medicine man beneath towering
tipi poles staked unnaturally permanent
into the earth. At the time
I didn’t know washing the smoke over my body,
soaking it into my thirsty flesh, it wouldn’t work
until years later. For a lifetime I kept myself locked
into my own hope, buried
in my own safe place, safe choices, safe
dullness. You opened it up greedily, treasures
tumbling like dismissed toys to the floor.
An elder brought you to me, all siren’s smoke
and nature’s magic—neither of us
are the wrong kind of Indian.
When Columbus found me, he thought he’d found you.
He was lost, reckless and foolish like us.
what miracles, what marvels, wrong turns
and losing yourself can bring forth.
Spoon Me Out
I saved it for you, the good stuff,
the best years. The crustiest parts
of the walnut bread, the biggest slabs
of the pecan pies, the loveliest amuse bouche
of me—the hours when I’m most alive,
not suffocating in deadlines or tensed
in the pauses before the storms. Even then,
before I knew our opening notes,
in the prelude before our symphony, I saved
the sweet spots for you. And I’m not saying
it’s anything special—it’s not nearly as decadent
as others’. My grace falls short and I stumble
like a newborn colt on shaky legs still
wet from breaking into this world. My beauty
is left wanting, an afterthought of sorts.
And I can’t speak
to tell you romantic things, new reasons
why I love you or how your chest still
feels like home. But I can write,
and I’m loyal beyond anything you can imagine—I saved
the choicest meats for you, the prime cuts
from my body, the most tender morsels
of my mind, the effervescence of my spirit, so
cut me deep, tuck into the spread, and spoon
me out, rich and steaming mouthful
by hungry, salivating mouthful.
Jessica (Tyner) Mehta is a Cherokee poet and author of six books, including four collections of poetry. She's received numerous poet-in-residency posts, both in the U.S. and overseas, as well as the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund prize in poetry.