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Elizabeth Vignali and Kami Westhoff

(oak tree to mistletoe)

Kami Westhoff

Mistletoe attaches itself to the branches of a host tree and punctures the bark with its haustoria—specialized roots which penetrate the host’s cell walls and draw water and nutrients from it.

At first I was proud. Your leaves webbed
my branches green against the barren bright of fall.
You were worshipped, as virile as an erection,
hoisted on my shoulders like a hero.
I’d never felt so close to the sky.

The change was slow like the night’s steal
of light from the days of December.
When I drank, your thirst quenched.
When I took a breath, light and air became the food
that throbbed the color into your leaves,
sharpened your barbs, bled bright into the berries
that promised, Disaster.

Trees aren’t known for their ability to heed warning.
We stand still as rock against the whack of an ax.
We offer our skin to flame, ignite ourselves into ash.
We favor the strength of the root over the expanse of the branch.
We wait for something to change us into something else.

At times like these, it’s best to turn inward,
burrow through the rings of memory, settle
in the deep-dark fibers like a childhood tragedy.
Here, I’ve already died, but the message hasn’t yet spread
to the surface. It sits heavy in the wood of the heart,
  its message simple as the carvings of first love initials.
The unsolvable equation of you plus me.

(mistletoe to the oak tree)

Elizabeth Vignali

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In your branches cathedrals gather,
twist in fine green tendrils. My clinging
runners curl ahead to scatter
in your bones. It feels holy,
doesn’t it? Let me froth your marrow,
let me lather bells across your body,
let me in. Lovers should be close.

At first—a gleam, a rising spire
as your branches bare
white against the sky, your immaculate palms
lift to the sun. I’ll scour your veins
clean, I’ll lay my flat leaves on you,
I’ll show you there’s nothing to fear.

Release your leaves, dear.
Confide in the sky with salted breath,
invest devotion, pull gravity down
in little deaths. Let’s watch them fall
together. Don’t fret. I have enough
for both of us.

Pretty on the Inside
(female anglerfish to the male)

Kami Westhoff

The male anglerfish is much smaller than the female, and doesn’t develop sexual organs until he finds a female and attaches himself to her. Attachment occurs when he nibbles her skin and releases an enzyme that causes his lips to fuse into her flesh until, ultimately, his body melts into hers.

I can no longer differentiate where my body ends
and yours begins. You were the first who couldn’t resist
my bioluminescent lure, the pheromones that pierced
the water and invaded your brain like an idea.

For a time, I felt your fins' flutter, the pierce and tug
of teeth as my skin and muscle resisted then relented.
I queased as my vessels unraveled and rearranged
to make room for yours. You wear my body like a terrifying costume,
your mouth stuffed with teeth. Even my eyes, which once saw
what I looked at, saw what ours saw.

I get confused some days. Whose thoughts do I think?
Do I eat what you crave?
Do I fuck who you wish to fuck?
You still breathe with your own gills—
is there a just me at the bottom of a breath?

Today, I was found again. His teeth, though no less sharp,
more a tickle than tear. His entry leaves me ravenous, so I eat
something twice my size, worry about the limits of the body.
You’ve been absorbed into the warm slick of my body,
now only gills and testes, stuck like an organ
I've never seen but know is there.

First Impression
(male anglerfish to the female)

Elizabeth Vignali

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In the ocean depths I found you only
once I’d lost my way.
Like the little fish tangled up in the dark.
Knotted in your grin.
Your lantern shone like a scene
from some deep-sea Christmas card,
a soft gleam illuminating the white
plankton drifting in the cold dark.
You took me in your body like a child
sinks into snow and, writhing, leaves
the impression of an angel.

No angel for me. I left the hollow
of the body that touched you first,
before your belly buckled under the remains
of the lovers who followed.

A Corner To Haunt
(shortfin mako shark to the snubnosed eel)

Elizabeth Vignali

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The snubnosed eel, typically a scavenger, is also an opportunistic parasite that has been found stretched along the backbones of various fish species and even curled within the heart of a shortfin mako shark. The eel simply chews its way into the body of the host and lives within it, feeding on its blood until the host eventually dies.

Your rootless wandering led you to me,
your bloody and burrowing pansophy.
When I think about the ocean’s vastness,
the practice is tenable, if your style
a bit extravagant. Your elbowing
graceless through my gills, your levered entrance
in the crook of my heart. Don’t we all seek
a corner to haunt, some small space to fill?

Unfortunate eel. You caught one who was
already caught, and now you have nowhere
to go. Sharp body branched black in my red.
Your sheer opportunism did you in.
Mistaken plicate mouth devouring
a heart fated for someone else’s feast.

Your Body A Bullet
(snubnosed eel to the shortfin mako shark)

Kami Westhoff

  Once I saw you—your body a bullet
through the brain of the ocean—nothing else
would do. I once pleasured myself gill-deep
in the bellies of shad, feasting until
the eggs threatened to burst through the slim straw
of my body. But times had gotten tough—
you found me feeding on the bitter milk
of a cod’s spinal fluid. Your deep-space
  eye saw me, a line of slick on its backbone,
and now I fatten in your heart’s lumen,
lick blood from my fingers while you complain
you do all the work, that this wasn’t what
  you signed up for when you swam close, teeth bared
gills flared in a What are you waiting for?

➥ Elizabeth Vignali Bio

➥ Kami Westhoff Bio