by Candice Kelsey

a not admitting of the Wound
Until it grew so wide
that all my Life had Entered it
~Emily Dickinson

Unzip me from the inside,
and let the rats pour out
tail first and tumbling
to the jagged beat of my heart —
that dust bowl ceiling vent
ruining every room
from L.A. to Augusta

—struggling to breathe warmth and
hope for a reprieve
from the heavy work
of carrying a life crowded inside
a dying dog and an angry cat
a life I pray through the rough
licking of a sandpaper childhood
burning the eaves of memory
in my hospice soul
like the anthracite coal
my father worshipped, an amulet
from his Southeastern Pennsylvania womb
zipped tightly in his shriveling mind,
his quadruple-bypass Frankenstein heart
cannot begin to stumble away
from the loneliness of being that four-year-old boy
whose father
(my grandfather) died:

a zipping up of the future,
cold teeth clasping like fingers on the wheel of a
woody ‘78 station wagon
forty years later and 16 years into fathering
four times as long as his own father
an immigrant with so little

time to find skin on skin the touch we need
we all need the intention
of our people in the only sphere we know
a hungry maze of tunnels inside
we call our need
to be in the spirit of touch
our submetallic luster
if not literally
then by words — gifts of the tongue
wet with life and healing —
or by seeing we exist in space
with a birthright as bold as time
again it is time
to gather the rats, corral the vermin
they call depression

into the tiny marked cages of my body
this shiny black bag
of generations
I see you zipping up tight

until the next time
we perform gruesome experiments
paddle-deep in the mine
where a Prometheus canary dies by noon
and wakes at midnight to die again

—a futile warning

wound as old as woe
I ignore as I march into the earth
becoming just another mine rat living on scraps
with a pickaxe and a headlamp
whistling the song of my grandfather
with the lips of my father
the carbon tongue of hope
and the century breath.

Candice Kelsey teaches writing in the South. Her poetry appears in Poets Reading the News and Poet Lore among other journals, and her first collection, Still I am Pushing, explores mother-daughter relationships as well as toxic body messages. She won the 2019 Two Sisters Writing’s Contest and was recently nominated for both a Best of the Net and a Pushcart. Find her at