Poems: Emily Perez

My Husband’s Hands
after Charlie Clark

from our mutual friend / the first thing I learned: he was handy / I heard “handsy” / a groper / but then I learned he built things / fences / flagstone paths / dog houses / with turrets / reframed mansions for movie stars / he knew by their nicknames / the drugs they took / their drum circles / he handled an awl / a circular saw / he knew how to hang / a door / or fine artwork / on our first date / he balanced my oven / yes he brought the heat center / of my home / to a level plane / so I could bake / a quiche or cake / some battered thing / that does not win / against gravity / and later / he’d protect our soffits / expel the nest / of rats / rooted in our roof / boost our property value / and in an apocalypse / he’d fit our basement / with a water treatment plant / and wield a shotgun / while I tended to / morality / and cleaning / and needing his protection / no, he was not the dream / I’d fledged as a girl / a man to handle / plans and money / on our second date / he asked / if we married / could I balance / the books / a different dream / my hands / dotting i’s / crossing t’s / inscribing our ephemera / ephemerally


My Son Is

porous / a sponge / when detritus is stirred / did you know the word flotsam / can refer to a person / a vocabulary book / taught me / another name / inhumane / a metaphorical knife / for wounding the foe / my son is permeable / penetrable / he has leeched up the screeching / from downstairs / from upstairs / outdoors / words we lobbed in his sleep / what’s seeped in his pores / his cells realigned / with the way we maligned / he resonates / shakes with our hateful / hums with our dirge


Stolen Things: Part III

I stole the necklaces and then the earrings soon I had scads and scads of stolen things a cascade of icy waterfalls adorning

my mother harbored the painting under the bed, imprinted by The Louvre, what did she know about the woman who’d asked, the man, the drug cartel—just for a while—collateral that can’t be sold—just until the woman could make her break, be broken

one cannot wear the stolen thing except in lonely twirling before a darkened mirror

what else under their bed: the rifle, the things we rifled through, a careful girl, I knew every loose coin, the teeth the tooth fairy plucked, piled now in a Mason jar, I knew the pocket knife, the guitar strings, the smell of all those secrets

now the guns in my ageing parents’ house unlocked unloaded or locked and loaded or waiting to explode in my hide-and-seek sons’ finding hands

and what good is a secret except to fester all your gut

my children rifle: we decide to give their father a skateboard for Christmas and my youngest bursts, I know where to find one! he leads me to the closet where I’ve hidden it

why would Q. steal our son’s magic wand? says my husband, but I don’t begrudge him his pull towards magic, and neither does my oldest son from whom the wand was stolen

I know I need to return the jewels but how they keep multiplying in my hands and what else do I hold that shimmers with someone else’s DNA

there is a man walking in my yard, leaving footprints in the snow

my son cannot believe we own such a big tree, do we own a tree, one tree we bought and planted, three trees grown here for a near century

I say we will not take it with us if we leave

from whom was this land stolen

I put my hand on my son’s bare back mine, he’s mine


What if There was a Cat

What if there was a cat who had no friends and she dug a hole in the yard and buried herself and then she kept digging and digging until she found the coldest planet on earth, and you were her friend, and did she like me, did she like all of us, even the sun made her hiss, she really loved you, and will she survive, we have a dead cat, you announce to your friends, the yard was lovely in fall, colored leaves haloed then, her bier glowed, flamelit, now barren, but will she survive, do you mean persist or exist, I cannot look to that plot by the fence and think of her now, how her body is damp, even wormed, her thin ears like rose petals, did we bury her warm, did she ever get cold, when our house falls down and we are not here someone will come find the cat, no the cat won’t be here, even bones disappear, but don’t they evolve, she can evolve into the tree near her grave, her minerals grow trees and when the tree dies will it become air or a kite or a cow, minerals that fill, they move through our blood, do you know what the heart does, how it pushes out tubes, how the body can move, if you didn’t have bones your head would be squishy and your legs would not run like the cat on the shelf, jumping thump on the floor, hardwoods over heads where sound hearkens toward spirit her echo comes back, the cat in the yard beneath leaflessness now and is she surviving, persisting, existing, or will she keep digging, insisting she reach the planet that’s coldest on earth.



Emily Pérez is the author of House of Sugar, House of Stone, and the new chapbook Made and Unmade (Madhouse Press). A CantoMundo fellow, her poems have appeared in journals including DiodeBorderlands, Poetry, and DIAGRAM. She teaches English and Gender Studies in Denver, where she lives with her family.

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