I thought I was dreaming him—
man in the hallway, a husband, a leopard.
A leopard altering light. And the smell
of him, sweet like rot
deep in a tree. Then he dropped his bags.
That morning I cut across
the neighbor’s field on my way
to the store. Movement where
there should be none—a dead hare
animated by maggots, beetles puppeting
its body. I almost
put my foot on the snake. Black rat snake
streaking away from me, deeper
into wet grass. The thrill—
visceral. Of my nature.
He sleeps. He is dreaming
children in a phalanx of vultures, their dead
wings hum in his chest when I lay
my ear to it—ragged
gutturals of breath
where the starving
Soup cans, cantaloupe ask
what is normal. A woman’s head
floats up over tabloids.
She wants to know did he come back
He came home with bullets for teeth.
He came home made of glittering
rock from the riverbeds, the marrow
of what happened there. He came home
a protean conman, folding
and unfolding like paper—
now lover, now leopard, now swan.
Stephanie Pippin’s poems have appeared in Boston Review, The Iowa Review, and Ploughshares. She lives in St. Louis, Missouri. (4/2009)