by Reuben Ellis
To alter flesh, use the deciduous catclaw,
the spiculumed acacia, tearblanketits
common name, unpronounceable in
ambiguity. I could describe it to you,
three-thorned, polygamous flowers, pinnate
pods, but you will know it because you will
be bleeding and the alkaloids in the cuts
will be a kind of pleasure, perhaps not
mainstream, but not either unusual.
As for the name itself, because there is no
outside to language, perhaps the thorns once
ripped apart someone’s bedding, tangled with
their bodies. Perhaps it lodged, a premise, in
the coarse-woven, sweat-soaked space between
the saddle and the mount. The poultice does
nothing to stop this mad post to modernity.
Or the long a could become the long e and the
the difference between tare and tier Ricky
Ricardo struggles to understand. The dusted
yellow flowers bloom most heavily in April,
which is the cruelest month, and Jesus wept.
But as much as we hate the fucking plant,
small animals at times seek refuge inside
its lower places from predators. Good for
them, but not everyone escapes.
Think about it as you nail the deer hide to the
splintered battens of the barn. The flattened
black skin, cringing around its still bloody
edges, pulling back from bristling hair, looks
petal-like, fine lobed, and lace. Too dense
for fabric, it curls and cracks. You joke that it
died in a tragic gun cleaning accident. In the
morning you will treat it with borax, salt,
vinegar, with brains. Say the word–tearblanket.
And you have already committed. A living
animal has no edges, you know.
Urine for the Spring
We have no need for a pot of urine. Ours
has sat unused in the corner for a
month as it is.
The weather has been clear and cold at
night. The horizons have been
far away and have spoken to us
in the darkness of what we fear
in what we know of the next town.
There the people all wear coyote masks
and eat raw meat from chickens.
Urine sits still and thick. This grows
demeaning for us, in the warmth
of the wood stove.
We would walk to the next town if the
roads were open, but they are dark
and still and empty as snow lies
three feet deep on the grade.
There are stories about the way they
copulate in the next town.
And the moon is new and like a branch
bowed under the snow. We have
urine stored up from all of us for
You Can Eliminate Orange Traffic Cones
You have done the rest. Good job,
and only this remains.
Remember the woman at the coffee
house, back by the sofa with the
chess board, the one who told you
when to travel and when to stay,
and how small seeds should be
swallowed with which liquids,
especially the black sesame, and
how to carve away soft material that
does not belong around the image.
She was an actuary, in her early forties,
and she smelled of grapefruit, and she
told you which non-native plants must
not be used, and of course why the
white rook was missing from the set
She brought it up, but in the end taught
you nothing useful about the cones,
the brightly colored thermoplastic thugs.
You must handle it yourself now.
Create an aqueous infusion of polyps,
extract alkaloids, maintain the regime
of kombucha, sulphuric ether that
will protect against unwanted oriental-
isms and depositions. You know the
rule of cones.
Soon strangers will begin staring at you
with looks of great concern and for some,
anger, but you know how to handle that.
Now you can move at liberty. You are
About the Author:
Reuben Ellis is professor and chair of the Writing Department at Woodbury University in Los Angeles. His publications include Vertical Margins: Mountaineering and the Landscapes of Neo-Imperialism; Stories and Stone: Writing the Ancestral Pueblo Homeland; and Beyond Borders: The Selected Essays of Mary Austin, as well as many published essays, short stories, and poems. He is currently working on a book-length project describing literary representations of ancestral Puebloan peoples and sites.