The VGP Literate No. 8

Neural Piano
(for my grandmother, Grace Paynter)

You see,

her mind was never
confined to that room

sea foam soothing green
gall bladder attacks
and projectile vomit


it moved with music
scales sliding sideways

was scented
all things vernal

she sent it beyond
that jonquil window

where the sunlight
was weaker than
the pale blue
flame of her eyes

entire bouquets
used to bloom there

out into the garden
where the beauty
was so exquisite
it was maddening

the wires, drips,
patches, and i.v.
simply ceased to be

enforced reality no longer
her sterile misericorde
the aim always a blank point

bored in the way
of the boring
she suffered graciously

after they cracked
her treasured chest

the doctors
disinterred songs
classic harmonies
conducted by
dusk’s steely hand

“show me the way
from sin to mercy

I’m your sister’s sister,”

she said to me

then she pointed
at a pint of blood
cooling on a hook


“it’s not a cardinal,
you fool!

it’s a coppery-tailed trogon”

the breast inflamed,
the breast infected,

redder than hers

she convinced me
it was perched
on a hibiscus

her tongue swollen,
her breath infernal,

yet almost sweet
real and regal
to me

her bare legs
still long, aristocratic,

translucent carriages,

she said,

“these birds
are attached
with sensitive wires
to my nerves”

as her unplugged eyes
rained down cadenzas

as her tears
turned to jewelry

brightly flooding
the room she never knew

with a light, her light,
which seemed to say,

“what’s so damn lucky
about that sun

if it can’t touch me,
walk beside me anymore?”

it was there
in that present

that her wounds
feminine as Christ’s

bled truth

drip drop dripped

off of ivory towers
into the ebony void

where my eyes
worked with insect agony

to reconcile a locked scene
that ached for a piano,

a minor key
for a kingdom
of rain.

Hardly a Butterfly
(for K.)

the dark times
bring the most songs

too soft
these voices
for this
solid air

breath’s promise
arrives dead
hangs insincere smile

cynical finger
pokes at nothing

the lightning exceeds
its own grasp

you never asked
to be its rod

judging shape
of subject
judging shade
inside object

here’s a wish,

end all stories
like dreams

i.e. no more conclusions

the faceless keep
their empty distance

ignorant to mother’s
trembling hand

reaching out from the stable
forming natural bridge,

she says…

Gravel Road

she brings a bowl
of ripe apricots
to this lonely room
where my body rots from within

for a while the walls fall away
I breathe without the burn, the choke

she removes the flesh
with just her bare hands
until left with only the hard pit
which she smashes with a hammer
extracts and feeds me the seeds
with some small chunks of ice

she wears a yellow dress
redolent of southern summers
returning from my youth
over nothing but her skin

she is what the sunlight
through the pale blue curtain
strains and fails to be

I search her eyes,
find a reason to believe
when she says,
“the tumors are dying not you”

then her smile breaks soft and clean
touches everything at once
just enough to get inside

now I can sleep.

William Crawford is the author of Fire in the Marrow. His poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize

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