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Maggie Blake Bailey

The Fisherman’s Wife

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Once upon a time there were a fisherman and his wife who lived together in a filthy shack near the sea
~ The Brothers Grimm

First it was a filthy shack
near the sea and I was god.

Now it is a koi pond,
and I watch the bodies slip

past— black smeared like
soot against white and orange,

or solid gray, shifting
against shadows and rocks.

Only the eyes and mouths:
white and open. Mouths

cutting holes into the surface
of water. And then yellow,

just yellow, scales a saturated
butter, deeper than egg yolk.

Whiskers streaming, eyes framed
in tassels of skin, in my hands

flesh bristles like hackles, gills
pump and gasp, and the mouth

cuts tight circles in the air, cuts
circles in the soft flesh of my palm,

each blazing hoop larger than
the last, each bright ring expanding
until I am swallowed by gold.


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We replace Georgia’s blistering
June with the mocking edge
of summer in New England,
anticipated, unbearable:
horse flies, sand fleas, deer ticks.
A plague to be outside.

In this heat, we verge on thunder
storms, we stack sunrises
on buoys, we say red right returning,
as a way through rough water
because in this heat everything
is bloom and thorn.

Queens Anne’s lace and beach
plum, one osprey waiting to dive,
frenzied minnows, blackberries
still red and hard in the hand,
in this heat our mouths
and our names are the same.

When I Became a Mother

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She said: If you keep chewing on your hair it will ball up in your heart and kill you.

She said: I dreamt I picked the flesh off her bones like a chicken wing. Left it scattered on your father's windshield.

She said: I bargained for your heartbeat. But bargains are just nesting dolls. One opening, coming loose in your hands, spilling out another: click after click after click.


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Hold up two fingers and command me
to build the tabernacle my heart
could not bear itself.

Our own tarnished bodies, a temple:
I have housed you again
and again. Forgive me.

Your arm hooked between the blades
of my back has become a fettering
and breaking wing.

Has become a crest of darker, stronger
flesh cracking through and free
of the prison of my skin.

Bound to take flight, bound by you
by how well you fit and fill.
Hold me still.

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