WHAT IT MEANS TO BE TAKEN
My mother was the kind of woman who just wanted to be taken;
my father’s young ribs were already gnarled but he staked the con,
took my mother’s fresh heart and promised to fill it with worlds
and money and oceans and art. She was ravenous, ate the meat
without flinching. He’d later say that she had a bird’s eager mouth,
always crying for more, all blind beg and wide, fervent throat open.
Two months after his third wedding my father, still young and open
went cutting northbound roads mostly alone, sometimes taking
to curbsides for penniless strangers, nestling their fists and mouths.
This was before he met my mother, before he’d turned the great con
that made me. He spoke no English, learned words over red meat
at Texas restaurants: cow and beer, dollar, woman, this strange world
endless and flat, his car and bag parked outside, all he had in the world.
He grew a mustache, kindled the beginnings of a sturdy gut, opened
a small business making empanadas—pastry, cheese, raisins, meat.
The words were coming fast now, a lunch rush where he was taken
seriously by the business men and pretty young girls who were cruel cons
to all men with their long smooth legs, all contraband, sweet pink mouths.
He could speak enough now and the girls loved his lilted mouth,
the purr that makes even arroz a low lovers’ thing. He entered a world
where rich beauties spent money on the cute foreign guy, and the con
was easy—soon he was doing radio work and these little girls, opened
legs, hearts, wallets, everything for him and whatever it took
to keep him happy, this father they’d never have, all love and meat
and yes, mijita, you’re beautiful. But my father was greedy and let the meat
turn. He robbed their homes, fleeing East. He met my mother, her mouth
Cajun red spice at a crawfish boil. She taught him to take
the head between his teeth and suck the insides, eat the brains, the world.
He won my mother just by listening—she laughed when he opened
the tiny crustacean chest, trusted the way he smiled, missed the con’s
fast lift and soon he had his fourth wife. It was easy; she was a con
man’s dream, lovely and weak, easily bruised, and my father’s meaty
fist made her nervous, the way it clenched and waved, turning open
only once he’d won and his wife sunk weightless to the floor, mouth
brimming and hushed. When they had me he said I was the world,
promised to change, cradled us both and cried. Later, he’d take
everything. My mother won’t open again, expects the con.
She knows what it is to be taken now, has no hunger for meat.
Oh, the stupid, eager mouth, she says. Oh, the world.
—from Rattle #40, Summer 2013
S.H. Lohmann: “Auden said you knew you were a poet not because you felt you had something to say, but because you loved language. Often I find myself writing a story and getting distracted by verse, by patterns and play. I like to hang around words, to see what they can do. Everything comes back to that.”
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