Mullions cut the windows
into equal pieces, there were cats
prowling the halls of the asylum.
Nights straight-line rain hit the glass,
the wooden rafters shook.
Oracles in white uniforms scavenged,
lifting us to their rooms under
the heavy crucifix. Searching for prophecy
in our small bodies, they held us
to their flat breasts, drove their fingers
inside us dreaming of jesus:
How he would fuck them, hallelujah!
“Whose seed am I?” the oracles
sang, hovering, as they licked and
sucked in the dark,
mediums between the dirty town
of the small room and the vast space.
Four lines of a lyric
(or nothing comes that rises):
Dear figure of mother: I’m staying
with the white page: since
nothing comes that rises—
just the truth that drags & bitters
GREEN COMETS OF THE FUTURE
Down County Road 18 outside of Stow,
my head flying the room of strangers.
I was fifteen & doing peyote in some guy’s trailer
buttons of weed, young enough I was
wearing my scapula around my neck,
burning into my skin with its green string, praising:
IMMACULATE HEART OF MARY,
PRAY FOR US NOW in all scary caps.
On the other side, Mary in long robes holding
this flaming bloody heart—
The green comets of future spinning,
catapulting me in & out of time &
I thought about my pillowcases at home, sewn
into a sleeping bag for safety, the drapes pinned shut
Birds were flying around inside me—
in circles, white. I could feel the
psychopathic swirling of air. Were they
spirits returning to dive-bomb
the monstrous buildings of my past?
In the cloud soup, in the cloud river
of my brain, the hills & factories of Pittsburgh
rose up like the only real things.
What was it that people wanted from me?
What was I trying to hold together?
I hurtled the broken-down steps
of the single-wide—what passed for a country
home on that green night, my head
now the comets, my head now walking away.
Jan Beatty is the winner of the Red Hen Nonfiction Award for her memoir, American Bastard (2021). Her sixth book, The Body Wars (2020), was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. In the New York Times, Naomi Shihab Nye said: Jan Beatty’s new poems in “The Body Wars” shimmer with luminous connection, travel a big life and grand map of encounters. Books include Jackknife: New and Collected Poems (2018 Paterson Prize) named by Sandra Cisneros on LitHub as her favorite book of 2019. Beatty worked as a waitress for fifteen years, and as a welfare caseworker, an abortion counselor, and a social worker and teacher in maximum-security prisons.