Vir Pulcher

by Lisa Fay Coutley

A dozen men are swinging hammers 
outside my window & I want to fuck 

not one. Maybe my neighbors will cliché 
me—island of rock, graving dock, canary 

forgotten in the world’s oldest coal mine. 
Maybe my neighbors will simply stop 

seeing me. I hardly see myself. As a girl
I never took the scissors to my own hair 

in anger or wonder, not for all the hours 
I spent staring into mirrors, making faces

& pretending that must be a better place 
to exist. Rejection is never clean. Ask me 

what I want most from life & I’ll try
to spell the smell of lilacs, sunned skin, 

freshwater that won’t shipwreck anyone 
who tries to drop anchor at my shore. 

Once, I loved a man for nothing more   
than his boots bent at the edge of my bed, 

but who gives a shit anymore. Even sand
isn’t what it seems, all smashed glass 

rendered less dangerous. This is what
pulverize means—love undoing us

to dust. It took just one year to forget
the dead language I struggled to revive 

inside me, yet I’ve never forgotten how 
to say handsome man. I’d like to say I could 

recall strong woman, though in truth I never
knew. I want to tell you I’ve learned to be   

less angry because I’ve mastered how to 
swallow myself small. Now, I’m all swing 

or shrink. The year I boxed love’s things  
my body began its ritual of heat, waking 

in bright burning knots. Tangled bouquet. 
So much blood came & kept coming 

the myth of me might say that I packed  
handfuls of glass down my throat 

& sat down with the hope of bleeding 
this island out until nothing could 

call it home. 

Lisa Fay Coutley is the author of tether (Black Lawrence Press, April 2020), Errata (Southern Illinois University Press, 2015), winner of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry Open Competition Award, and In the Carnival of Breathing (Black Lawrence Press, 2011), winner of the Black River Chapbook Competition. She’s received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and Sewanee Writers’ Conference, a Rona Jaffe scholarship to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and an Academy of American Poets Levis Prize. Recent prose and poetry appears in AGNIBlackbirdBrevity, The Cincinnati Review, Narrative, Passages North, Pleiades, and The Los Angeles Review. She is an Assistant Professor of Poetry & CNF in the Writer’s Workshop at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, where she coordinates the WRWS Reading Series and advises the student journal 13thFloor.