Katherine Gaffney

Persimmon House

The man who lives in the persimmon house seeks
                 out words like teeth swallowed
by the children he and his love raised together
                 and the one who has yet to grow
teeth, whom he will now raise alone. The teeth? Kept
                 in a metal box for the clink
that sounds to him like memory. This house is where
                 his wife died, now the persimmon
where he coaxes the goat to the kitchen table with fresh
                 figs. What is the origin of the bees
chattering the house’s siding? The goat, perched on the table,
                 reminds him of bouquets
his wife arranged with scraps of wire, weeds, sun
                 -bleached bone. To complete
the centerpiece, he finds a small cushion to lay the baby’s
                 head beneath the goat’s udders
for her to suckle milk straight from the source. As the child
                 drinks, he stands before the goat
with a salt lick to keep her there, unable to find the words
                 to thank her for her stillness.
I’m sorry, I too am struggling to pinpoint the bees
                 in this story, but somehow
the father finds tears pour from his eyes’ pulp as baby learns
                 to find comfort around cloven
hooves, as bees continue to pour from the eaves like sequestered
                 listeners. There, have you riddled
out who I am in all of this? I can say what I am not. I am not
                 the bacteria that grow when bottling
the goat’s milk and keeping it cool in the root cellar, nor the spice
                 in the cabinet father has forgotten
how his wife once used in crusts and soups. I am not the wax
                 father has always used on the wood
floors to prevent splinters from piercing his babies’ palms
                 and knees. You have been so patient,
so I’ll tell you: I am the words sheltering in the bat-studded caves
                 of father’s mind that gallop up
the beach all at once, like wild horses, to evade the thundering
                 tide. Though he tries, he cannot
bridle us. We are caustic to his tongue, as persimmons colic
                 the horse’s belly. We sting his ear,
pierce his lips like a thorny mouth-shaped crown. Shhh,
                 baby and father are crying
and the goat is beginning her ascent. Each communion
                 at the table is as close as father
will get to the initial anguish his wife once felt as she bore
                 her breast for each baby’s rooting
mouth, and waited for her nipples, bee-stung, to turn to rubies.

Katherine Gaffney completed her MFA at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and is currently working on her PhD at the University of Southern Mississippi. Her work has previously appeared or is forthcoming in jubilat, Harpur Palate, Mississippi Review, Meridian, and elsewhere. Her first chapbook, Once Read as Ruin, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press.

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