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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.

Know this

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.

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