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Shannon Hozinec

The Axe-Eaters

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Think of a mollusk's soft belly, ability to envelop its only defense against predators, against forks and knives. Are you picturing it? Good, now know that it is my mouth and that my mouth is more than a little defenseless when you are around. Think of my mouth. Think of what defenses it could have, if I let it. Now think of your offenses. I come from a family of scavengers waiting for their time on the throne. We are the flies who cling to flypaper instead of frogs' tongues because we want to choose our murderers and we want to give them no thrills.

With knees dark, I climbed over larks and trout and piles of softly sleeping rats in the place where you left me and mapped the way back to where you would be by the reading the mud in the cracks of my palms. The mud gets lighter as I get closer to you, but the sky or what I call the sky stays the same, stays dark. My hands are little maps, and I'll let you trace routes to other women if you promise to wash them off afterward. Because what is family if not a collection of people willing to forget your mistakes.

But remember my mouth. Picture it again, redder than you remember it. Redder with whatever you will imagine, with things you will not remember correctly. Picture me and the rest of our brothers and sisters, crouched low in the dark, waiting for our teeth to harden.

Verse 13

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Speaking the place's name is what compelled the last two
to stay, despite the rising clouds. Your mouth, darkened
by its twist, ash caught in the meeting of your lips.

As you finished. The hunger cannot be sated
by a softly-tucked limb; they'll soak us in resin
and roast us over a fire that'll frame us from the inside,
realized on the curve of your one particular rib.


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The boy then, still very alive,
little voice, lots of eyes.
A man of women,
soft hips, strong jaw.

A good night was his father's mouth
shut and his wallet in his pocket,
was his mother's lap,
fingers through his hair.

bad night: grandfather of tobacco and denim, coughing
beautiful, beautiful, you don't speak enough.
spitting exhaust into old handkerchiefs.

Daddy bank cashes his mouth.

Now, lady's thighs pressed to his ears, seeking heartbeat.
Ocean sounds, swell and choke. Listening is not easy.
Each word a tidal, keep yourself always underwater
so wrested air is that much sweeter.

Forget all that.

Instead, thoughts of gifts for Christmas. Giving is easy.
Sister, new red sweater; mother, jasmine perfume
or maybe their father's cut-out money tongue on a plate.
He talked too much.


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To begin: if you cradle a woman's heart in your hands, if you avoid handling it with calluses and ragged fingernails, only let it feel the soft of your fleshy palms, and then bury it under the grave of a thief, you may see her live forever. This will only make you happy if you convince her to do the same to you. If you cannot convince her, dig up her heart and soak it in oil for a fortnight. Remove it from the oil and place it in a bed of leaves that have just begun their crackling, and cover the heart with plucked pine needles. After the next moon, it will evaporate, and the woman will feel her life become threaded.

A man's heart is only as good as its grooves are deep, and the number of beats it gives per minute. If you want to make a man happy, you must work soil from the base of a cypress into its nooks, cleave between the chambers and set it in the sun for an hour. When it dries, pick it up and dip it quickly, once, twice, into a bowl of vinegar. Clean the heart carefully, ridding it of any trace of dirt. You must make him believe you are cleaning the heart of its natural filth, and not of the filth that you have added. If he discovers your betrayal, immediately discard the heart into a river full of eels, but only if there is another heart to take its place.

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