Writers Institute

Kim Stoll '12

If the Stars Were Black, the Skies White

If pin stripes connected the dots of constellations.

If airplanes flew along them—if birds.

The constellations living now.

A man shackled to the wings of—

leaning into and telling secrets about.

He swings from beneath, clubs their feet.

If you ate like an insatiable cat,

drank like a crow who wanted a gun in his mouth.

If the house had a heartbeat, blood lines,

blue and red pulse. An organ in each room.

When water is the only recognizable feature,

a ribbon through swatches of land.

If every road were a bone—a femur.

The Dissected Maps that Form the Heart

There: a blue-eyed boy leaning

against barn doors, his fingers in his mouth.

Slip into the stream we grew out of,

splashed our feathered tails in.

Tired of the bridle hanging

without the horse and without the rider.

Tired of the snake tasting the air,

tasting the dog barking at its master.

As cold as the crescent moon,

yellow streetlights and unscarved throats.

Wake to the howl of a freight train,

your brother sprinting towards the tracks.

Your Algae-Coated Lungs

The earth wobbles you

right out the sky, grounds

you in the fog. You’re a waterbreather,

all gills and sharpened

talons. The picnic table slick

and soaking. You’re kissing

like a scarecrow, thinking

I lost my feathers in the fight.

A hooded rooster, lunging,

in love with the sun-glare

flooding through the slats.

You prop open

the storm cellar,

you dress yourself

in papier-mâché.

Somewhere else the fog lifts—

you crush a leopard frog

in the quick click, puff

your chest full, eyes caviar

and wild against the muted leaves.


Caribou neck swoops

and yawns, goes stiff

against slender, callous

oak. Rain freezes

everything in gloss sheets,

fish gasp at hollows

in the lake. Cream against

white—the antler chandelier

drips long ice daggers.

It’s not even night yet,

and you’re already hungry.

You think white snow,

white stag, white shadow,

in the autumn Adirondacks,

wondering who eats the trees?

Your fingers itching off

birch bark in brittle, powder

scrolls. The roots like thighs

straddling glacial boulders,

like they’re aching for you,

like they grow fox fur

for you alone.

Arid/Aren’t You Satisfied

Texas made your nose

bleed and throat go raw.

It was all dying rhino,

drying in the orange desert,

folded sand banks,

brittle breathing/brittle hide.

Or white pigeons splaying

wings back, plucking

nightshade, snatching out

each other’s berry eyes.

You could look so smug

and proud, the blood-drenched

muzzle—a red fox basking

in a tundra blanket, curling

tail around long-gloved paws.


One: Weld the skull to a body, any body,

any body-like thing, send a current

up the pistons/spine. Springs contract

(condense), release you into movement,

into click, whir, long-dead beak,

and fractured jaw. How long have I

been dead? Guard your poppy seeds,

your peapods. Guard your wind chime

bones. Wind yourself in horsehair or pivot

on your copper-coil neck. Fill your abdomen

with neon, draw the beetles

to your many heads and feed.

Two: Fill your abdomen with nitrate,

breathe in beetles through your exposed

jaw. Springs latch your mouth

shut, snap. Slam your skull

against another, bleat your programmed

lines. Your organs are tick-tocking,

churning down a dead-end track. Beat

your brother, beat your molded clone.

Heat your blood up to a boil, release

steam through your gasket heart. Stuff

your limbs with straw, flap your thin-skin

wings and never leave the ground.

Three: Flap your marrow-heavy limbs

against your brother-clone. Memorize

your script, play it on loop, play it like

a record scratched. Did I miss my cue?

Let’s move. Screw your joints tight,

wipe the rust off of the wheels. Fidget

with your buttons, your bowties, your

lacquered tail and bones. Turn your skull

translucent, let the spotlights penetrate

your brittle socket eyes. Break the bell jar

with electric beak. Blink on and off and

on again, blue/white blown-fuse brain.


2012 Norman Mailer Award for College Poetry Writing Award

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