Julia Cohen and Mathias Svalina
In our space we can put the caskets anywhere
The girl in the owl mask knots her sheets. Drilled nickels dangle
from the lampshade—when the wind blows they sing
the song of bird beaks. When the winds blows her brother
to the other side of the bed, handshakes happen downstairs.
His father is a symptom of a mineshaft, a tin cup of coals.
Doctors file in & out without opening the door. They spit
sand from their mouths, collecting like possums in the basement.
Compare their scars from the spider wars. A funnel cloud
launches snakes from the lake to the mining camp.
One falls on the windowsill of a girl’s room & begins
to read from The Book of Mercy. Mercy means thank you.
Mercy means drinkable rain. The girl reads aloud
to her brother simmering in fever. When she closes the book
he is two feet taller, toes hanging over the bedrail.
He dreams that everything square is a casket. Each casket
holds three masks. Each mask has room for thirteen children.
The father forgives everything he can. I forgive you tree,
he says to the tree. I forgive you stone wall he says to the wall.
I forgive you blood he says to the flushed forehead
of his sick child who sucks on river stones. The doctors
crack their knuckles. The possums whisper in the sand pit,
they curl their tails & forgive the father for being new at this.
Doctors drive ten miles back to town & don’t return. They leave
syrup on the table to turn a fever into a leather strap.
The brother cannot touch the syrup, but it sticks his sister’s pages
together. She opens & closes the book like bellows.
Every page is part of the casket’s wall. The sister thinks the room
is hollow & the brother turns & turns into sleep. In the darkness
she takes the knotted sheets & flings them from the window.
As the night fogs in dangling vines she puts her owl mask on
& climbs out to find the mines. Thank you vines. Thank you mask.
Thank you caskets that line the highway, you eyelids of the owl mask.
A paper cup sopped with night-water cannot hold
The sister crawls into the tree trunk
searching for snail shells to grind into remedy.
She pulls a sack of moth dust from her jumper
& pours it into a glass of warm water.
As the moss gathers around her calves
she stitches shells into her hem.
She perfumes the inside-tree, perfumes
the water with a comfort-wish. For her brother’s
white shin, for his hair barely above the
night sheets. What can she bring back.
Whatever she carries over the piles of dead leaves
grows coarse hairs at the nape of its neck.
The brother holds the ice-dipped cloth to his eyes
& feels the walls expand into a landscape
of birch trees. A river rock under his tongue.
A silver whistle beneath his pillow for when
the night spills from his mouth like sand.