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Crystal Hoffman

First and last of things

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The last cowboy's daughter
missed him when he was gone,
had none of the power
of being the last of a thing,
but all the same need,
couldn't turn waste coal piles
into top soil and new bone,
sweeten poison water, or fall asleep
sinking into earth.

Restrictions lay before her
on winter count muslin cloth,
her species' boundaries blotted
in barbed red—where to travel,
by what degrees alter, as dead heyoka,
to bring back more border.

She longed for sharp mutation
snap, dug pits to turn grasshopper
locust, festered beneath ground
slow years, green to yellow,
harder, smaller, mouths more
for stuffing than brown spit
to skin, single fleet caving
sun's crossed circle.

Intent solid as sycamore and bull
horn, she prayed so hard it bruised
in shapes of coasts she longed
to swim from. Found father's
face at midnight and high noon,
in sharp edges of stream beds,
crossroads, precious stone, plants
that look like light, and her
own flesh wounds. She once slit

skin between her peace fingers
with dull arrowhead, bathed two
salamanders with the blood, sewed
shut one's eyes, other's mouth,
let them rest in her hands,
throat, and stomach until they knew
her better than she did.

Kept them curled about edges
of her ears, spoke look for
legs and open doors,
in father's tongue, sent symbols
with his accent, molded
over summered face, solidified
by his boot heal—teaching
a dozen different ways to become
the backside of God.

Ship of Fools

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They sent us on ships, to swim
in finger's taper and fade,
wood plank's rot to mold and air,
bowler's round and runner's gasp.

One obscure aquatic chased to next,
quarter staff to back, through cracks
in city walls, to absolution through mouth

of river's thousand tongues speaking
shrine, penance, more water.

But as too much land spilled
on board, they said
this should not be growing here.

And as it turned to left
edge and became sky, they
said these birds should not be
tunneling into orange ground.

Our tongues will always taste
sailor flesh, salt and iron,

a bite of shoulder
before diving where
selkie divides saint

burrowing until we lose
skin and dependence on stars,
wrenched it from bowels of earth
all mad.

Logic, God, and Gravity

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I have no mouth, but a veil
of pashmina or ash, boasting

berries spun to shining
in gash red, drain blue, and bruise.

I cup each to left cheek.
I do not exit; I will not eat,

but instead sun skin green to red
glow from throat, and shed need be.

See, this is how we carry things—thin
tree across shoulders, budding

photons, exhaled bright fruit, and rising.
To look, not taste. To splinter

by hanging or chase.
No fool, they are not world's

weight, nor forever.
Forever is spinning

log in stagnant pond
by turtle striving for sun.

The weight of the world is
everything in absence of shell.

And, if asked a third time
for gravity, existence, or mouth,

push back to your need for belly.
It's turtles all the way down.

Horse and Rider

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Every woman's neck
is a weak black vine
she can swing from
thrice for escape.

Every man's chest pulses
grottoes he can swim
twice before dissolving.

But at sixth need, a frayed
stump or pool of bile,

some are left with ink
thin palominos for salvation.
Who when fed the bit

eat whole palm, leaving
only lightest sounds Adam
uttered and sharpest.
Who ride you to their ends,

until they hurt, bareback, twine
tied for reins, to Hôpital Général,

where they leave you to water,
knee deep, muslin covered
but you still burn chains red
hoof to wrist, because they forget

how ruin means rubbed
clean and endings mined
not from earth, but flesh
breed wisdom in that blue drip

on iron bar and how only hands
bit can hold, swim, and ride it.

Matching Tongues

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What hurts me in English is not what hurts
you in Levantine but it has wrenched apart
the pair of us the same.

You see our letters must be precise,
muddy ink on white, just the space it takes
sometimes feels like acid or a confused

pot, bottle of triple distilled whiskey,
weighted somewhere in the neck, like
that drunken rhyme you taught me to make

it feel lighter. I have removed half of each
of our mouths and fill our sinuses with copper wires,
connecting one slide of your tongue to mine,

but when you say no, I will still miss
a note and think you are singing
to me, and even when my wire rises

to meet yours with a popping in my ears,
I still won't mean refusal like you, but laa laa
and something Bob Marley told us when last

we left the pub with arms linked about how
one good thing about music, when it hits
you feel no pain

even in any language.

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