:: Article

Two Poems

By Crystal J. Hoffman.

The Alchemy of a Tall Tale

The last cowboy missed the call to go West,
break wild mustangs, bathe in desert sun,
star in dime store novels, forge new trails
to Old Mexico. In fact, he would never leave

Laurel Highlands. Years spent picking potatoes
out of cold ground, he chose not to notice mountain
wood ripped up from around him, corn fields filled
with waste coal, river stone stained blood orange.

Instead, the last cowboy learned to bring back
extinct things, even as a boy could taste them
at the tip of his tongue when he spoke their names
silently over and over—distinct nuances of ending.

Starting simple, he merely made myths: had two
half bear uncles who slept in caves, a brother
who fell in love with a donkey and carried her on his back,
a father with flesh of tree bark who couldn’t feel pain.

Cowboys learn slowly, blood spread thin, kept stagnant
by alien ocean and plain, barbed wire and fence post
distant grandmothers and family cemeteries.
He had to dream his own death three times

before he began the dangerous business
of making miracles, spiked to a tree, complete
with descent to hell and cry of Eli Eli lama sabachthani,
He watched himself sink into earth, absorb each

wanton waste of wild thing into his brown flesh,
then rise again where sulfur rain acidified,
flaked it off, and crumbled it like the sheet metal
rust that filled the lungs of his steel worker sons.

Woke that third morning to feel fruit and vine
growing beneath his skin, smelled his own lineage
leading back to centaur stock, noticed frozen gods
from foreign skies speaking through his teeth.

He found his three dead sisters first, blackberries
growing in a strip mine, the cowboy carried them
around in his belly where they taught him to sprout
cabbage roses and gold rings from his fingernails.

With these he wooed three women born of genocide:
one Irish, one Shawnee, and one from Côte d’Ivoire.
Kept them all safe in the body of a buckskin mare
they gave the name Lucky. Together they drew

milk and honey from poisoned wells, kissed waste coal
piles and watched wine bubble forth, gave their voices to
every creator that ever fell silent: Raven, Kokumentha,
Tuatha, Ra, Bal, Ur; Rode forever into black and white sunsets.


Beneath Earth is Warmer

“If nothing else,”

                     the girl thinks,

This I know:”

                     She stares at the beasts
                     of reconstructed bone
                     standing before her,

“They must be so cold.”

                     This is the beginning of the collapse.

She knows each of them.

                     In fact, has dreamt every extinct creature
                     buried in earth beneath her feet.

Spends her nights calling them to her bedroom,
to listen to their tales of

                     flesh washed clean
                     to become rock

                     blood turning
                     to soil

                     bone to
                     coal and diamond

                     as they press slowly closer to the great fire
                     at Earth’s center.

From them, she has learned certain powers:

                     She can paint with Higgs Boson particles,
                     knit with parallel strings of existence,
                     make collage work colliding planes.
Fish Lizard was the first that she called into consensual existence.

                     From the earth’s mantle, he came to her closet
                     to kill off fear, death, and the hollowness she hates.

Now, she stares at him through a glass cube
labeled Fish Lizard.

                     She recalls his easy wisdom,
                     his effortless grace, and his loyalty
                     as a household pet.

The girl thinks now how she has come to love
each form of creation but her own,

                     who build sterile museums
                     in which to lust after hollow things.

These, I would have wash away,”

She decides that the tale is now her own.

                     begins to walk on her hands,
                     rearranges her features accordingly,
                     grows scales and webbed toes,
                     cut her tongue with her own teeth.

She carefully places inside of her
the bones of Fish Lizard

                     begins to desiccate her own
                     until they break like porcelain,
                     emerging from her new skin
                     so she can pick them out like splinters.

And now, they could have never hollowed
out the earth, and Hell’s Creek is her own back yard.

Lush morbid leaves lust for
carbon and are sated.

           Her neighbors begin to eat
           their own children and feel no guilt.

           They disturb the rising rock no longer,
           but instead burn their old flesh.

Soon, all mankind became dinosaurs.
                     like instant coffee they rose again,

lived their own death by millennia,
                     forgot everything.

The Fish Lizard watched them,

           waited to press back into earth

           waited for his turn
           for clean flame,

           carved words that no one
           could read into the fake fossils
           of a creature who never existed:

“Eat each moment, see me, cry, and hope, and beg to be beneath earth,
cold and quiet, and waiting to burn. The Fish Lizard moans.”


Crystal Hoffman’s poetry has appeared in journals such as Moloch, A Capella Zoo, FRiGG, and Maintentant: Dada Poetry. She is co-founder and Artistic Director of The TypewriterGirls Poetry Cabaret and also runs poetry “play”shops, which are dedicated to keeping Dada and Surrealist performance and composition alive for future generations. She teaches composition and literature at community colleges and attempts to create change and beauty through all means at her disposal.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Wednesday, December 1st, 2010.