Devon Balwit teaches in Portland, OR. Her most recent collection is titled A Brief Way to Identify a Body (Ursus Americanus Press). Her individual poems can be found in The Worcester Review, The Cincinnati Review, Tampa Review, Apt (long-form issue), Tule Review, Grist, and Rattle, among others. For more about her reviews, essays, individual poems and collections, see her website at: 

https://pelapdx.wixsite.com/devonbalwitpoet

Devon Balwit

Undoing the Hex

 

How many hours did you seek Narnia

only to find, once in, you weren’t taken 

 

with Aslan, nor with being good,

preferring the petty sadisms of loneliness, 

 

the small tortures of ones sadder, even,

than you? You imagined yourself adopted, 

 

your real parents wealthy, upgrading 

a bully’s belligerence for entitlement, 

 

a different parting of the crowd. 

Long Sundays, you worked your way 

 

through Lolita, through the porn mags

under the guestroom bed, wondering 

which orifice might undo the hex 

that kept you beastly, releasing you 

from the lost children whose tear-streaked

faces provoked pinches not pity.

The Intransigence of Things

 

Me, for a moment so proud, the dryer, gutless,

heating element unscrewed, wires dangling, 

 

but that doesn’t fix the problem, leaving 

my wash on the lawn to be shat on by crows. 

 

I take it personally, the intransigence of things, 

as if they intended to thwart me, already on edge 

 

from life itself. Why break this camel’s back? 

Let me plod the paths I know, watering hole 

 

to watering hole. Each setback splits me like

an ice shelf, swamping Vanuatu miles distant, 

 

or ending in my corpse, blackened and bloated,  extracted from stacked junk by paramedics, 

 

an Estate Salesign hammered between weeds.

Forget the breath. No use saying Redux.

 

Gratitude journals shred to shopping lists. 

Best intentions disappear into the junk drawer. 

 

Give me, instead, quiet habit, burying my head

in the next thing, ignorance’s velvet swaddle.

An Unwanted Role Model

                 (for Morgan Stickney)

 

When the pain became too great, she let them

take her foot, better maimed than enslaved

to Oxycontin. Pool water is forgiving. One-legged,

she kicks laps preparing for her new dream,

the Para-Olympics. Two years seems

long to suffer. Like me, she must have hoped

something would work, a cure all but promised.

Maddening to be the one for whom claims

fail. How sick one gets of well-

meaning friends and their advice. Yes,

we’ve tried whatever it is. I eye

her stump in the photograph beneath pool-swell.

Could I go that far—I who second-guess

everything? I’m terrified. I won’t lie.

Whatever it Takes

 

You call everyone else white trash, 

all the while catching whiffs of yourself, 

the acrid smolder of insure-and-burn, 

dump tires lit on bored Saturdays. 

Try as you might, you can’t hoity-toity 

your way past even the greenest bouncer, 

defensiveness like toilet paper stuck 

to your shoe. You’ve worked hard 

on mimicry, at mastering the sideways 

glance, but one barnyard escapee knows 

another. I can smell the hick on you, 

the long bus rides through field stubble, 

to a high school you didn’t graduate from. 

Don’t worry. I won’t rat you out. I’m 

crashing the same buffet, surreptitiously

filling pockets. Like you, I know the pitch 

sloped, everything good rolling to those

who have. We smooth our skirts 

 

tight over thighs and lift our chins,

steeling ourselves for another run-through.

Our Beautiful Brains

(after the drawings of Santiago Ramón y Cajal)

 

What aerialists we are—

even the most timid

hurtling daily 

 

across synaptic clefts 

in internal parkour, 

pushing off ganglia, 

catching and being 

caught in tricks 

perfected 

 

over millennia. 

Leaving the massive 

for the minute, 

 

we become our own 

Attenboroughs, 

narrating each leap, 

spidery dendrite 

to spidery dendrite, 

awestruck as intentions 

scuttle over glia, 

animating Purkinje cells 

to lever us into motion.

By our own light, 

we explore reefs 

of ten billion 

 

pensive flagellates— 

electric, foot to crown—

worlds within worlds. 

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