Three Poems

by Stevie Edwards

What I Mean When I Say Sanctuary

is anything I can make out of straw
that will not collapse or burn
around me.

is something he's been building for years
out of burrowed newspaper clippings,

words he moved from his cheeks to the mud
and back again, lines of poems he tucks

behind his ears and inside his beard,
abstract paintings his friends made that mean

something (I'm sure). There's a new banjo
in the corner that reminds me of a woman

who used to play to me from across
a bonfire—she'd sing Wagon Wheel

for the hundredth time and rock me
naked into the dunes or lake. Somewhere

in a voice there is a steeple. His almost
scrapes the sky, has greater ambition

toward light than hers or mine. I don't think
this has anything to do with the phallic shape.
What he's been building has this propensity
toward heaven like the grand cathedrals

of Europe, built of a people who knew
to celebrate their God. He must be celebrating

something, must be building toward something
other than the closeness of walls cinched in

by piles of boxes of books. There are too many
words for holy in his boxes and none for the way

my toes curl, for the need of flesh for warmth,
for the nook of chest my head fits into, for

goosebumps, for celebrating the communion
of anything without bread and wine.

is not fire, but what is left after burning—
ash dabbed on foreheads, fragile
enough to be scattered by wind.

Not the collision of bodies, but
the warmth they share.

I'm Allergic to Cats AND Junkies
(but always end up holding them)

She's too young for the way rain
needles her bones—

It's no wonder she won't eat
when I fill her bowl on the counter.

She's curled up in blankets
at my feet when I wake.

She sheds her tawny guilt in patches
all over my comforter.

I'm worried she'll come home
with a coat full of fleas (or dead).

Too many hits into a lost night,
a man declawed her.

He was handy with a knife.
She barely rose to protest.

At least I don't have to worry about her
blood-letting my toes anymore.

She likes to nuzzle into the sickness
she sniffs out in strangers.

She's spent hours with her nose
pressed to assholes.

I tell her not to keep licking herself
until her skin wears raw.

I don't know what to do about her
sunning naked before the window.

The neighbors are beginning to talk about
the bloody piles of mice on the stoop.

For an Uncle I Know Only Through Letters and Collect Calls

At fifteen, I edited Mom's letter
pleading for Governor Engler's
sense of mercy at the end
of his third and final term
to pardon you. I'm still searching
for the words to unload that barrel.
To bury guilt in the frozen ground outside
Calhoun County Correctional Facility.
To correct the way a belt with a tongue
for hymnals carved your back into
runaway statistics into the beds
of semis into the futility of collapsed
veins into these prison bars striping
your face. To correct everything ether
could never shake off. The letter
itself was Mom's pardon for 1976:
for having to sit in a small-town
Michigan high school, for the girl
(who I imagine had prettier curves
than Mom, less mousy hair, a face
not yet eaten by coke bottle rims)
presenting on current events—
for two boys, bullets for pupils,
holding up the local gas station,
a cashier bursting with a bouquet
of oozing roses. For the way
the weight of your sick guilt
flattened Mom into her desk.
And I'm told it was your buddy
holding the gun. And I'm told
you only got it to scare money
from a register into your dealer's
pocket. And sometimes I steal
glasses from low-lit bars if
my purse is big enough. And
sometimes I commit sins
of time travel, waking next to
strange backs. And sometimes
in the back of a van headed
anywhere I cough regrets into
smoke. And sometimes I forget
your stuck-slow speech, your desert
eyes, all your fettered parts.

Stevie Edwards is the Editor-in-Chief of MUZZLE Magazine. She has been published in several online and print journals, including PANK, November 3rd Club, and Monkeybicycle. She currently lives and attempts to make a living in Chicago. She thinks the patron-artist system should be revisited.