Mary Stone Dockery

Two Poems

Lady with Knives

1. I noticed the blades after my first lover cut his palm rubbing it down my back. I had never been touched in the soft space between my shoulder blades before, in the grooves of my spine. His hands couldn’t reach skin, only plucked silver and sharpened edges. Only bled on our grassy bed. When I took a lover again, I only allowed his hands on my breasts and thighs, his lips on my collar bone, the tips of my fingers. He left unwounded. I never tasted his blood. With each lover, the blades grew longer. They were stiff, clicked into place around my muscles. My back could only arch inward, forcing my body into itself. I could not bend back away from a lover. I could not reach the tips with my fingers. No one dared spin me to approach what grew out of me. After a while, my blood began to respond to the cuts. The steel embedded in my skin. It purpled. The blood crusted. My skin turned black and began to erode, opening the necrosis. It smelled of violet and lilac, and suddenly nothing. The lovers stopped bringing water and cloth and rubbing alcohol. The lovers could not imagine remaining lovers, could not believe that I felt no pain. Could not lie with me on a bed of blood and scabs. Those who wanted to save me were turned away at the door. Many came to slay me, but fell to their knees before me weeping. I used their tears to clean the blood off my arms and legs. It was always wet now, each sore open, releasing. My back began to ache with knives. I walked with a limp, my spine curving into an s shape. I could not be beautiful for my lovers. My hands could not reach to wash my hair. I could not rinse each lover off my body before the next appeared. Eventually, they stopped arriving at the door, stopped reaching for my breasts, stopped coming to see the mythology of my nipples and bloody knees. When the lovers stopped, the blades began to change from steel to graphite, crumbling in piles near my feet. I reached behind me for the first time in years, my arms brittle with blood and with longing. Grasped the air behind my back. Found shiny pebbles and diamonds in the space between the bleeding and the pain. My skin no longer my skin: but instead a substance similar to thread. And the lovers were no longer there to touch it. If the inside of my body were a map, the knives would be nothing but pins keeping parts together. I knew of something deep and deeper within me, a solid metal, stiff and aged as iron, opening up in arcs of steel, bending, silvering my blood, changing my words with deep cuts and grooves, as if dipped in the melted gears of an old clock. I wrote the names of my lovers in blood on walls and floors, then erased the names with my body, wriggling on tile. I wasn’t sure if I was real anymore. If the letters of each name evoked in dreams sharpened the blades in my back. The vertigo of my blood snapped like a whip against walls, painting my surroundings in warped knees, with arthritis and cracking knuckles. My lovers moved to borders in other lands, took wives. They sent me pictures of their children’s nude backs right after birth, how each bone in the spine hid beneath pink flesh, how perfectly they could create another being. I hung these pictures on my walls and threw knives at them, hoping to land in the soft tissue between the tiny vertebrae, without drawing any blood. 2. When I was a child, my father practiced throwing knives at dinner parties, while his guests stood watching holding onto glasses of red wine. He stood the dining room table against the wall, its legs facing out and had me stand in front of it, lining my body with tarot cards. He stood on the other side of the dining room, wrapped each wooden handle in tape and threw to the targets near my calves, temples, fingers. The guests always gasped into their glasses or sipped faster, staining their teeth red, looking at the floor. I stood with my eyes closed, imagining knives in buckets gleaming, handles made of diamonds. I imagined knife counter tops, knife hands, knife fringes on coats, knife smiles. My father always said, “Remember to throw from the light end,” saying this to his guests, not to me, as he gripped the blade between two callused fingers. He tossed knives toward me as if he didn’t see me. The knives thumped into the wood table around me, always close enough to my body for me to feel its shiver of metal, to smell the tape and motor oil, the scent of hands. I always knew when a knife stirred the air in front of me because his body made so much noise as he threw it – his feet shifting on the floor, the soft grunt from his nostrils, the sound of fabric pulling against skin. With my eyes closed, it almost felt like my father would come barreling onto me at any moment, but instead the soft hum of a knife and the silvering of the room behind closed eyes.

From The Dopamine Letters

* Dear insight, dear panties. I am dressing in the dark. I can’t find you. I put on jeans anyway and the thick cloth rubs my soreness. The swell is warm and biting. I search the night stand for keys, my ring. His wallet. He showers. The dark room becomes stale. The smell of wicker, sudden. It feels as though he stands on the other side of the room, watching. Earlier the room had spun beneath me, above me, circling over me in soft arcs and waves. It had smelled of men’s deodorant, musk, hair. The room smells of cold glass windows. Church pews. The scent of not knowing someone’s name. I like how quick he takes me, leaves me, washes me off his skin quickly. As if it never happened. This is surprise. As if he never crossed over me. I take a twenty out of his wallet, fold it into a tiny square and stuff it in my pocket, grab his cigarettes. When I drive down the glass-edged highway I smoke his cigarette and can smell myself on my fingers. I buy a cheeseburger, a few gallons of gas, and it’s like clipping a rose from its stem for the first time. * I remember the first time I saw you aching over the asphalt after a long day working. You were covered in drywall dust, a white powder that blurred your face for me in the sun, your eyes blue again and again as you came toward me. The first time you reached toward me and grabbed my wrist, the soft lines of your fingers surprising, different. It was this surprise that drew me against you, my body arcing over you. I begged for your lips to cover me, for skin on skin, as if we had never been without: The first time I saw you with a mouth torn and cut with stutter, with broken answers, a yes becoming a no right in front of me. The first time you walked in the rain to catch me in the back seat with another. The first time my fist found your cheek. The first time we kissed in a dark bed. At your touch, my lips disintegrated into grains of sand. I still find remnants left in your pillow case, smelling of sea salt, brothel of touch. * Dear aura, dear painted glass. What time will the morning begin? His hands were like lightning across my thighs. My breath, cut glass, shards of light. Let’s drive faster in the moonlight, this road a painted silver stream, a smooth wave beneath me. The glitter of the night and my motion. What is that color I find behind my eyes? A rearview mirror shows me his cracked smile, the indigo of his tourniquet longing. And I reach for it anyway. I reach through the color, the swarm. It feels like lightning on my skin, every time. Contractions. Shivers. A bottle of beer in his hand, spilling into my mouth. In flashes, we are moving. The lights enter my body with claw marks, glitter of breath, panting. It’s difficult for me to remember anything that happens now tomorrow. The recreation of now becomes impossible. Instead, gangrene of the extremities, of my emotions. Even when I step on a piece of glass and my foot forgets to slice, to bleed, my tongue lying in cotton on the other side of the room.

Mary Stone Dockery's first poetry collection, Mythology of Touch, appeared in 2012 from Woodley Press. She is also the author of two chapbooks, Aching Buttons (Dancing Girl Press) and Blink Finch (Kattywompus Press), which are forthcoming. She is the co-founding editor of Stone Highway Review and lives in Lawrence, KS.