Three poems by Cathlin Noonan
Self-Portrait From a Balm
I was born from a long, hot labor
a boiling, a hard shake, whipped
to form after the heat and pain
my caul, not shaped in splintering
from my mother, but from a cooling,
scraped away. I reaped
from childless mothers, my face,
my hips, those worker bees
abstinent and dancing along
another’s fertile path, softness
in the sting. I soothed my own
postpartum with a marbling
of fat, peppermint and pine.
Until human hands force
my emergence twisting me
to come forth, I’ll burrow
into the cardboard channel
the one cell, the first pock
of a larger comb.
unlike this honey, unlike
each tethered larvae
pulsing for a future organ,
although I was programmed
to serve, I’ve swerved
from that impulse, pulling
hard on my digging
to trample other ground.
Outside The Bedroom When I Learned of Your Death
sun paused overhead, the lumber
halted beyond the cloth
drawn windows. Inside the bedroom—
walls softened, fan-cooled like winter
under West Texas stars—eyes lingered
in shadow just before the waking
but ears tuned to the ringing
of the hallway phone. Through that in-between,
I flirted with flickers along the wall, danced
naked legs and tilted hollow hips to clutch
the receiver, attached, pull the cord
taut, back to the folds. Listening
I traced an outline, my finger over sheets,
along the outside curve of the body in my bed.
Hips. Waist. Elbow. Shoulder
up neck around crown. Nose. Lips. Sleeping.
And then I heard you had died in another room,
a hotel in Denver. I imagined
your bed below a window too, remembered
the room where I first pulled shade
to protect the prickling of your withdrawals.
Beside that bed I once traced you, learned
I was no altar, found where you prayed
in a compact mirror, a wafer scratched by cards,
razors, fingernails. Before the call, before
the disk outside the window hung
instead of ticked along, I slept
beside a new lover awaiting the Judgement
of Solomon to decide my fate. But who
can have me whole when afterwards
I watched light slice below the window’s veil
as the sun resumed its path, pushing its blade
across clavicle to settle an edge upon the throat.
How to Get Ahead, She Says
whose presence I felt in a scent
threaded through space near the front
door, felt in the small pot of pink, left open
in morning rush, found in the afternoon
on the bathroom sink, felt in the waiting
in that same space for a lock turn and swish.
Dress for the next job, she says
and by that she means skirts.
Air startles, raises bumps along thighs,
even in sun. I turn longing for shade
and pant legs but am coaxed
to twirl. Lighter on toes, I rise. Spin
so fast the gauze tangles around ankles, caught
in movement’s memory. Though I’d rather
wear pants, I take a razor. Split the seams, easy
as gutting a fish. Stitch the sides to one infinite loop.
Let it be a buoy. Doesn’t she know the dangers
of swimming in a skirt? Fabric knots
along the bottom, catching on sticks and litter.
Cathlin Noonan (she/her) lives in Missouri where she works for the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis. She is Assistant Poetry Editor for The Night Heron Barks. Cathlin was recently longlisted for the 2020 Frontier Award for New Poets and was the runner-up in the 2021 Sweet Lit Poetry Prize Contest. Her poetry has been published or is forthcoming in The Banyan Review and Sweet Lit.