Fᴏᴜʀ ᴘᴏᴇᴍs ʙʏ Nᴀᴏᴍɪ Bᴇss Lᴇɪᴍsɪᴅᴇʀ
In The Evening, During Quarantine
In the spring evening of the future City, I am reminded that me and you and
everyone else, too, has, at one time or another, wished for death. Nothing like
a novel wave of plague to make my dance with dangerous desires, that yearning
for a touch of the pox, go into remission -- yours, too, I'll wager -- because now we
must join our post-medicine world with the return of the merciless medieval reality
that everything is caused by curses. We are still early in the lying-in period, the first
and last forty days of our lives; however, the only choice left is to stoop low enough
to negotiate an ill-conceived bargain with a lesser demon. In spite of this, I know my
turn is coming, so I hang a freshly painted plague cross on the door, splash vinegar
behind boundary stones to ward off virus vectors, spill sand and salt to mark time.
A modern hypochondriac in recovery reverts back to form in the false comfort
of home on the roof of the City when the plague comes knocking. Winter might
be over, traditionally the sick season of bacteria crossing the oceans on the backs
of rats or in the cells of sailors scared by angry monsters on ancient maps -- the
creatures you meet at sea will surprise you -- but this year brand new similar symptoms
wax and wane with the super sugar moon. I am not steeped in the archaic practice
of pulling on a spicy herbed beak mask to avoid the miasma of plague air, the strange
sweet scent of sloughing skin and rotting, collapsing tender organs. I am not familiar
with the fire-damaged breath of dragons. The world will begin again in the fresh warm
morning for some of us, just a lucky few, but maybe not me or you.
The woman I was a few hundred years ago has her front door sealed by erstwhile
friends, long-time neighbors in frightened fever pitch: home becomes a pesthouse.
The dreaded locked-in period spells the end. There is nothing left to do but pretend
all is well. In this time, mothers go through the motions, the sad charade, of starting
dinner for infected daughters -- my husband already dead in the family bed, maybe
yours, too -- but there is no cold meat or warm bread or ripening fruit. A new plan:
we will convert, become fasting girls, our holy hunger purifying our incubating bodies,
our sickened thoughts. After this, our burials; a kind, immune stranger brings us back
to the earth. The world ceases to exist for us, but in another, later, spring, our empty
house, the streets of our City, will, somehow, fill again.
Centuries later, in the City evening, before the onset of the dark sap spring sky,
I hold a model of modern disease in my future hands. Its sharp spikes stick in
the veiny meat of my unblemished, underworked late humankind palms, and I try
to pierce its organic fat jacket with my fingernails filed to perfect pricking points,
painted bloody pustule black. Forty days earlier, I demanded immortality – you also
were promised you would outlive us all – but we are ancient; the curve of time beyond
our grasp. Watch us conjure potions, create powders of life, to heal post-modern bodies.
Watch the pockmarked sky get dark, settle down. The world falls apart every night,
shapes of it landing all around. We are buried under it, but get a reprieve every day.
And I am, you are, somehow, alive, and still alive and still alive and still.
The Kissing Disease
After the old-fashioned necking, the sore lips, the mouth invasion, it slipped
me a mickey, replaced bits of me with itself, brought me to heel. It was nothing
if not charming before the damage done, but in the full fog of drugged tender organs
and triggered cells, it chewed me into holes, denuded my soil, scorched my earth.
On the other side of my conversion, the sequela hits hard. I cannot still be alive
with necessary somethings -- cells, strands, molecules -- rearranged, maybe missing.
Too much drag on the body, which can handle the shock of small punishments,
but notes every slight and violation, every canceled contract.
I'm supposed to watch to see when and what happens. Wait for the breakdown,
the shakeout. In the third quarter phenomenon, I find myself in thrall to the way it
doesn't joke around, floored by its mercurial self: the way it relishes opportunity,
wishes the wild universe dirty, knows nothing beyond itself.
I wonder if the world will forgive me. Such fresh hell for flaunting young round cheeks,
biting pretty neck skin bruised, exposing wayward lush flesh.
in native state
in native state, I wait
in the enormous world of your body
for the sequence of big bang events to unfold.
observe me in native state. watch me into existence
through your microscope; pray over wishing cups. You beg for a mitochondria shake
or two, but I am not a sorceress of sorts or a great fixer of your small universe.
listen to me in native state. I go on and on about sacrifice, how you don't always
get what you want. The unexplained is always idiopathic, but the result is the same:
your ballooning heart broken with news.
this is my final report:
I'll do the violence, the wanting, the killing. Keep me
charged this way, tight with tension, lying in wait.
Who knew my added-up faults could summon the devil himself?! I had no idea
that multiplication, division, the blame game of find-the-variable, the search for
the perfect world of right answers previously denied to me, could lead to a direct
line down to the underworld. Everyone knows I can’t add or subtract, but I can still
– do still – leap from place to place, cross dangerous thresholds, wary that stillness
will be the beginning of my extinction story. Consider how my disastrous inability
to put numbers together in any meaningful way has brought me here to this moment:
Here I am! Also, how did I end up here?
Yes, math is unholy, but the doing of it, counting’s active state, the manual labor of it,
the busy-ness of it, the change in direction of it, is supposed to be an act of equilibrium
–an expression, a proposition – but now all the devil has to do is collide probability
with possibility – the probability of the possibility of no possibility at all! -- because I
am clearly in over my head. Uncertain if I sense his presence, I need to keep my half
of my latest devil’s bargain, but the whole idea of practice is absurd. How much good
does practice do, how much good does counting do, when you are the invisible squared?
I move up to the front of the line because I am desperate for equanimity, but mostly
I want permission to want, to have at it. Count me into existence! Count me in! Time
minus time. Curve plus curve. Theorem begets theorem. The inflection point miles above
my station, I am hard pressed to keep up more exhausting days of same. But I am way
past the exit, the boundaries of proof; I no longer recognize truth. You either get it or
you don’t, so how do I get out?
This is where my curve changes, and I can't help but love the dirty world that raised me
a little less. What it feels like for a body in trouble: a constant moving to the maximum.
Get the devil down, get him down, get him back down! Find the way out, or risk never
again feeling, knowing, the slippery smooth plane of peak undulation. Unable to find
the rising point, there is little left but the falling, the inevitable descent down.
Naomi Bess Leimsider has published poems and short stories in Rogue Agent Journal, Coffin Bell Journal, Hole in the Head Review, Drunkenboat, The Brooklyn Review, and many other publications. She lives in New York City.