Issue 7

Poetry

Charlotte M. Porter

Swerve, A Life In Three Parts


B. S.
Before Speech we cursed like snakes,
our cuss so filthy I leave line blank.
Serpent Sister swallowed mom’s younger face—pampered trophy, 
show-bench pooch burped up in bathtub.
Brother Boa constricted upholstered sofa piece by piece, 
puked cushion kapok on the lawn.
Before Speech these were whoopsies — floaters, farts, upchuck on Learning Curve, 
Swerve, 
metaphysical 3-D enjoyed hit or miss.
Sidewinders, basket coilers, swamp dancers 
we writhed in pre-alphabet of S shapes, figure 8s, 
running bowline knots. 
Wild we embraced group outrage, touted two-tone skin — 
mismatched plaids, better solids, worsted stripes.
Before Speech the Auld Fang Syne gang,
from first strike to forked tongue, were trim — 
no office fatback, bobbed nose, taboo. 
We didn’t parse with spoon and knife or pause to chew.

We swallowed wholes not parts. 
Our prayer was prey,
our favorite layers, brown-egg hens, 
free-roaming reds with peeping trail of yellow cupcakes.
Barnyard champs we spat seeds in public places, 
hiss arched against blue park skies 
in swerving Frisbee paths never twice the same.
Before Speech we remaindered spinster serpent aunt, 
wasted bachelor uncle. Head to tail we devoured self,
wanton, flaunted clash, noisy patterns 
now crumbled as cursive comic #$%^
— short nervous shed for satin song, long Latinate labels about 
herpetological, ovoviviparous, cunnilingual, idolatrous.

A. S.
After Speech we low-life types grew legs.
We spliced tongues & straight lace to ignore crack, crevice, refuse flesh.
At recess, we learned to see-saw, jump double-dutch, dodge the slap of arching 
ropes once us, our Swerve against daily sailing sky.
B.S. ways condemned as infest, they made us recite nursery rhymes, 
belch vowel sounds between common lower case and commas, ha, bitsy grammar 
snakes: 
a jack and jill went up the hill to fetch (you betcha). 
In B.S. days, j & j were hitched to now-plow, asses, 
hee-haws low on tomorrow gas.
After Speech, my milk teeth lost, rebel me switched to rare V words — 
Vetch, Vixen, Vex, Vaccine, ah, VAXINE, 
my vice-squad name scrawled on restroom stalls with needle bite for wit.
They strapped me down for root canal, lanced my best fang, drained the fester
to protect me from myself. 
But I still covet Nasty, solo S & M. 
On third Sundays, pew passed hat for pennies to patch cleft lip, 
cure my hiss-lisp, blanche my tastebuds, barbwire braces 
to help me chew, choke on After Church.

Fresh Air funds send me off to Summer Camp for cursers by lake 
with phony chieftain name, Big Moccasin (think snake)
to basket-weave, paddle, count sheep, hah, devil eggs. 
At remedial K.P., 
vegan counselors dub me Regina, 
for curly crown sprouting V and lips below my waist. 
Whoopsie they say. Wrong place for girlie mouth and parts of speech.
They shake me out, hang me upside down on hook like dishrag, 
forgetting I’m snake. 
Big diff. 
V tipped up like Viking horns across my head, 
after grace, I nicely unfold like napkin in lap 
to hide the fork between my legs. I need to eat, gorge. 
Hold your tongue! Camp Boss shrieks. Learn…
proper Ps & Qs, polite Q & A. I flip the bird, 
hiss through two forked fingers, duck too late.
Backh&ded whack against my face cracks pallet, splits tongue.
Suds up, chipped cup Speech Coach echo-sneers. 
I cotton mouth, cover ears, taste my own cold blood.
Lose dated skin, choose your race. While you still can. I pick 
my nose, flick flavor scales from scent pits, 
slink away sanitized as toilet bowl. Except for
paired rows of spiny bones, 
I pass for home-ec white icing purling on low heat, 65°,
pale as maggot, all too soon sticky 
sloppy swirls of soft-serve from frosting-gun, shit,
that missed the Big Cake.  

Coda
Messages —
skipping banned participles, I press HOLD (sanctioned 4-letter camp word) & 
rehearse rule-bitch for success: 
Stovetop ambition, taste you own crawl. Shave those legs. Grow real-girl hair.

Too easy, Regina. 
After Speech, words are my pilosity, nettle cowage, stinging hairs.
Lips lacquered, teeth capped, ventral implants, I look like soccer mom
or human rage-cage, gagged hostage inside snare.
That’s why the endless phone calls:
a.m. viper demands ransom, p.m. co-cobra bargains fresh kill.
Starved asp, I haven’t cursed in months. My voice, barely audible, 
slithers like drool, wet dream 
over prattle, pillow talk, Delphic crap I’m now paid to write.
I feel like eating flies, scaring nannies with my baited tongue.   
Must I bask in sidewalk cracks, steal warmth? Or hack brutal blood sacrifice.
Besides the polls, 
does A.S. & Co. own the sun and red sprawl of early light against skewed skies?
Head to tail, my outer skin needs gourmet feast, ample food plain, delta fan. 
Under skin craves Swerve — torment, mean fuck, cruel rite of Spring.
I bite my gums, fast-forward messages. I’m losing speech. 
Oiled, coiled, ready to strike, phone junky dangles quick fix, toxic drip.
Jealous of street sex, cancer, worms, Mother wants her dead boy back.
O Michael. No willow, epitaph, leaves of lament —
the sacred vial,      , venom for my empty cusp.