Cole Caswell, Deserted American Dreaming, Ascending the Elk River (3 8”x10” tintypes), Oregon, 2017

April too soon. The monarchs
crowned themselves. Everything
arrives secondhand, like hearsay.
From above, the moon doused
my silhouette in blue rust. If this
is truth, so be it. We once picked
berries after repetitions of midnight
fires. Let our fingers tangle, unknot.
Sugar pulp thieved from burnt dark.
My eyelids are charred at the seams,
like all slightly damaged goods. You
do not notice me now, nor my hooves.
I stare at the pupa casings crushed
underfoot like corn-husk dolls.
Imagine a tiny monarch writhing
from the past’s translucent grip.
Membranes more mist than powder
gold—unfolding to make flight.
I hear you cradle these butterflies
like drunken lovers, legs trickling
and girlish, pinned down. Is it true
you dipped each face in ether? How
they have glittered—orange, stiff
on corkboard even in a frosted sleep.
These days, all bird sound is the sound
of your arrow when it severed open
my ribcage. That wound a perfect circle.
And I hear you dethroned each king
in that stretch of bluegrass undressed,
ongoing and going on. I hear you
calling each antlered vision a nightmare.
The hearsay here: I hear everything you say.
Yet in the woods, I no longer respond.


Jacqueline He