Lesley Wheeler

Flammable Almanac

I pick up the cards as a kind of game
because the pages of my calendar are salt.
A char-cloaked man who spilled
three cups hunkers in me, unable
to budge. The air smells like smoke.

Put your toes in the water, Temperance
says. I know you’re discouraged but
the only way you will ever arrive
is to get your feet wet. Bury bulbs;
one day they will be lilies in your pocket.

So I armor up and ride across a desert
upside down, wand erect,
so enflamed my horse is blushing.
There may be nowhere to go
but I move fast through and past

summer, my hands learning the meanings
as the meanings learn me. An ashy history
flows into an egg-yolk tomorrow.
Autumn I become the King of Pentacles.
Ivy climbs the ground, the chair, and fruits

all over my clothes. When the psychic said,
Good things come to you through fire,
I thought he meant my whole world had to burn.
Now I know the fire reddens inside me.
Every paper window incandescent.



Giant Tube Worm

Dear rift-dweller thriving
without light by hydrothermal vents
in hostile ocean abyssal zones

amid smoking chimneys spewing
danger that would wither anybody else:
cheers for living a thousand years

secreting chitin, you single and
plural aggregation of winners
tangling roots promiscuously

with other invertebrates, never mind
the lack of mouth, gut, or anus
since you lean on symbionts

who help you chemosynthesize
while your scarlet flag,
sole exposed tongue of flesh,

licks up like a sexy nub of lipstick.
Way to handle pressure.
Yet your rotten-egg stench—

emitted not by waste that, given
your anuslessness, has a way
of piling up, but by sulfides

in your blood—has reached me,
poison-lover excreting toxins!
I refuse to become you.

I know you feed on sunlessness.
My grandfather’s shunning
of my mother, before cancer

invaded the shade of his cranium.
My mother’s years sleepwalking
through rainbow grocery stores,

driving home without the baby,
an accident squalling in the cart.
Your endurance is an art, but watch

how I cut myself loose, raising a red
branchial plume to say goodbye,
chemoautotrophic deep. Suffering

is not my due.



Lesley Wheeler is the author of the hybrid memoir Poetry’s Possible Worlds; the novel Unbecoming; and five books of poetry, most recently The State She’s In. Her poems and essays appear in Poetry, Kenyon Review Online, Poets & Writers, and Guernica, and she is Poetry Editor of Shenandoah. lesleywheeler.org