Peter Mishler

A Romance

I doubled at the waist before a well
to drain the water from the stalk
of my fake flower
then collapsed onto a cart of wood
the woodsman hauled away.
We passed below the miles of trees.
I heard the fine abrasions
of his coat against his axe,
my colored scarves still spilling
from a marbled suitcase
in my rented room.
His cart, I braved it like a bed,
my underfeathers festering and blue,
my forehead falling
toward my chin at eventide,
the evening falling
on my eyelids when I blinked.
The starlight cooled.
I felt its stellar wind blow through me
as I gathered on my chest
its bright deposits
which I kept
to build my inner lens
beneath the spires of the great city
on the morning we arrived.

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Swim Club Kate in the City of Dis

The devils studied her spit
for its secrets
but found she knew nothing,
discovering only
a sugar cube road to Damascus,
a desert of felt,
and a pyramid built out of foam.
And these, they knew,
were merely a fourth grader’s
knowledge of God
so they let each droplet
fall from their mouths
and onto her swim suit
and turquoise-polished toes.
And they mind-read
her bike lock combination
and looked beneath
her bright pink visor,
while the mimicking birds
on the high pylons
pronounced her medications’
names all wrong,
and a threadbare towel
curled into itself
in the plastic bag
that spun on her wrist,
and they sent her down
to a lower pool
and she joined the crowd
in Bermuda shorts
which had formed to watch
a set of twins
who were fed by the devils
while treading water,
and they watched and rewatched
a sunburned girl
who had to repeat
her death by drowning
and had to receive
a teenage boy lifeguard’s
hair in her mouth
while he tried to save her,
his aluminum whistle
grazing her cheek.
Then a door in a sea-mural wall slid back
and the little jackal god appeared
with his shriveled penis
and his black lycra loincloth
to carry the girl away,
and the masses shuddered
when his hoofbeats fled.
It was then the Sea God spoke aloud:
          Test Kate now for her vanity!
It was spoken by him
who can only be seen
from the bottom of the diving well,
who is one fluorescent circular eye
with thousands of naked frog-kicking lashes.
Before him and his subjects
Kate swam the crawl,
the backward crawl,
and the breast unashamed,
and was asked by the God:
          Now can you swear
          you will cease to expectorate,
          to come unshowered,
          to bring us your scabs?
And Kate nodded to him
with some dignity,
an orange soda still ringing her lips,
and she held out the plastic bag
tied to her wrist
and he gave her the flakes
from a diving mask
and one hundred threads
from his finest suit,
and said she must braid them
piece by piece
into the map she would use
and on which she would sail
should she ever wish to return.

 


Peter Mishler is the author of the poetry collection Fludde (Sarabande Books, 2018) selected by Dean Young as winner of the Kathryn A. Morton Prize in Poetry. He serves as features editor for Drunken Boat magazine and curates a contemporary poetry interview series for Literary Hub.