Three Poems
by Iris Cushing

TWAIN
after Shania

It is Sunday evening
You’ve been out

Who with

Whose hood did you pop
Whose coozie sleeved your Bud

while rigs whistled down I-10 unheard
Whose truck has your lawn been under

Whose screen door have you sprained
Whose fingers tangled your fringe

From whose lacy things have you come un stained

Whose braids have you un done
while I was asleep out in the bed

Whose field have your boots been under

Whose longhorn has your rodeo circuitry
or prize belt your buckle cinctured

Whose boots burnt skinsnake garters
moongut skyhigh mindshaft

For all the barbs in a wire mile

Who’s been tanned by the same sun
that done tanned you

 

TETRALEMMAS

Alice Cooper or Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
A fictional frontier heroine or Vincent Furnier
Not Alice Cooper not a fictional frontier heroine

Anise-flavored or Coney Island
a peninsula once overrun by rabbits and licorice
not anise-flavored not a peninsula once overrun by rabbits

knocked up or “lawyer” in French
not avocado not a bun in the oven
knocked up and avocado

Chicken menstruation and the The Governator
Arnold Schwarzenegger or a raw egg
not The Governator not chicken menstruation

Samuel Clemens or Lewis Carroll
Not Charles Dodgson not Mark Twain
Mark Twain and Lewis Carroll

An atoll in the Micronesian Islands or Sandwich
Captain Cook’s name for Hawaii and Bikini
not Bikini not Sandwich

OK Cupid and she’s over it
internet speed dating or she doesn’t call
She’s not over it not OK Cupid

 

THE GOLD-MINING WITCH OF PLACERVILLE, CALIFORNIA 

James Marshall first witnessed, among the Maidu,
arrowheads dipped in sap and then in flakes
of something yellow: a gift

to whatever animal the weapon aimed to pierce,
more valuable to them than a soft but pretty metal.
He also stole a gold ring from the nose

of the Maidu chief’s eldest daughter.
I envy that savage maiden, even
as my hair grows hanging lichen

and the lichen grows moss and the moss dries
to a golden color. I sleep in a hollow log,
and honor its shelter as if it were my parents.

My manners are too primitive for the nearby boomtown.
It favors talcum-powder girls who wait genteelly.
I found in riparian thickets a more suitable General Store:

Muskrat, crayfish, miner’s lettuce. I’d quarry a stagnant pond,
I’d drink up the last oxbow lake north of the Fork
if I could find the map that keeps it hidden.

Yesterday I invaded someone’s claim, hell-bent on stealing
what rusty equipment I found; it seemed the best thing
to do a stranger, minding her business, thinking only of herself.

She was nowhere to be found in a town called Nowhere.
The nugget under her pillow was banded with quartz
and looked like a rich man’s tooth.

I left it where I found it, and carried off her copper kettle.
She’d placed twelve chunks of pyrite in a circle around her fire-pit,
perhaps hoping the heat would alter its element.

I too have tested the technicalities of Fool’s Gold.
I’ve panned for platinum, for pearl, for the ore in Oregon:
why worry about one of a thousand desperate prospectors

returning to her lopsided tent, made of the same sturdy fabric
that Levi Strauss will soon stitch into the first pair of jeans?
My own canvas trousers double as a stovepipe.

I can make a garment from a used utensil, a gravel-screen
from a French lace drape. As I walk away,
I press a set of tracks with severed bear-paws.

Why did I trust that fur trapper from Vancouver?
Murderous Salteau women were all he knew of love.
He claimed they were much wilder than me; one, he said,

sang as though “her bones were coming out of her face.”
“Oh My Darling Inclementine” is a lesser-known version
of a song most miners know.

It reminds me of a whore I stole a gold coin from.
I threw it to the river, making amends.
Were it up to her, I’d drown, face-down in a horse trough
but I’ll drown another way.

 

Iris Marble Cushing was born in Tarzana, California. In 2011, she was a writer-in-residence at Grand Canyon National Park. Iris is an editor for Argos Books in Brooklyn, and for Circumference, a journal of poetry in translation.

2 thoughts on “Three Poems
by Iris Cushing

  1. Pingback: Can Any Good Thing Come Out of Tarzana? « Tarzana Is My Heroine

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