December 11, 2018

Nickole Brown

TO THOSE WHO WERE OUR FIRST GODS: AN OFFERING

1.

Samson, I admit it: I flirted with you
in Sunday School, crayoned tan your He-Man pecs,
picked the box’s best to dye bright
your Pantene-perfect waves. But even then, I didn’t touch

those kamikaze columns, left blank those two
marble pillars snapped with your sledgehammer fists
to crush a whole damn crowd. Yes, even then

I was a real red-letter girl
timid in the back pew, hiding behind the blue cloak
of the only one I ever felt safe enough to pray to—

HailMary, keep me from Judges
and every other book in the OT
gut-piled and slick as a slaughterhouse floor;

dear MaryMotherOf, save me from
those men like him who slit
the throats of lambs then struck
a pyre to burn the poor beasts, calling
what they’ve done
a sacrifice.

 

2.

Even now I’m trying to understand

these jacked-up swathes
of the Bible everyone shoves
under the rug—like your barbarian
move to snag 300 fox and bind
them in terrified pairs, then,
roping a lit torch between their tails,
freed them
screaming to burn
grain fields and olive groves, to
burn alive.

Samson, did I ever tell you
after hearing that story
of yours, my cousin bolted
out of church to try to shove
firecrackers up the poodle’s ass? When I cried,
my aunt called the dog from the yard, said,

Don’t mind them boys; they’re just
proving themselves.

The only boy I knew back then with nothing
to prove lived down the street, and in the sleeve
of his jean jacket, he kept a foundling
squirrel, nursed it pan-warm milk
with a syringe.

That little boy’s name was Pete,
but everyone called him faggot.

 

3.

So, tell me. That donkey’s jaw—
did you ever think it wrong to wield a thing
accustomed to the peace of fresh hay

and swing it like a thug does
a baseball bat? And is it really a miracle

to pry open the proud mouth of a lion and rip
apart his face? And why, a year later, did you
return to the scene? Just to toy with the trophy
of his corpse? Either way, you pillaged
a hive that had made sanctuary in what was left
of his chest. I see you there, Samson,

squatting inside the broken cage of
ribs, reaching to where the great cat’s heart
once was to snatch another stinging
comb, the crust of dead
bees and their honey in your beard.

Because you didn’t just spring hot from
the mouth of wrath to slay the enemy
of your tribe, did you? No, Samson,

you came to kill

those beasts who were our first
gods—those forms we used to paint
on cave walls, those animals who were not
made as sacrifice for your altars but were

the temples themselves.

 

4.

Come here, big man. It is time you
wake. It is time you find a different answer,
time to solve your own riddle
once again:

Out of the eater, something to eat;
out of the strong, something sweet. 

Because the answer is no longer
fear curdled into rage,
a murdered lion with a swarm
sugaring his remains.

Answer me. Because I see you,
you action-figure lackey, you lonely tenderheart
duped by your girlfriend’s shears. I wait
next to your sleeping head to gather
what she cuts from you, and outside,
I set it free.

Can you say it? Do you see? Your hair

spun with spider silk and lichen to make
a hummingbird’s thumbnail home; your hair

matted into the tatters of chewed-through clothes
to cradle a litter naked and pink; your hair

tucked into musky dens, a spun-gold currency
flown among crows; your hair the soft

bed where strays bleed and possums piss;
your hair lining every hollow, warming
a throne of owls.

You see, Samson? A whole kingdom
steals away your locks
by tooth and talon and claw:

Your strength, taken from you,
but given back to whom
it rightfully belongs.

from To Those Who Were Our First Gods
2018 Rattle Chapbook Prize Winner

__________

Nickole Brown: “For the past three years, I’ve been at work on a bestiary of sorts, investigating the complex, interdependent, and often fraught relationship between human and non-human animals. In this chapbook you’ll find the first results of this project—nine poems focusing on the experience of creatures in a world shaped (and increasingly destroyed) by us.” (web)

Rattle Logo