The Last Exotic Petting Zoo
In the dripping cold of an Oregon January,
miasma of wet dog clung to us like a
discarded lover. You, sick
with a cough and a heavy head tucked
in the pages of a book. I drove
like hell down the coastal
back roads. No one holds tigers
and lions in the winter
The wanton mud swallowed our shoes,
sucked our feet in searching gulps
while the animals watched.
You held her,
Bristled paws like a kiwano,
as I cradled the bottle of milk
into her frantic mouth knowing you’ll never
think me as magnificent as you
do right now.
I gifted you a tiger cub, her claws etching
delicate scars into your forearms,
while the rain scoured us to the bone.
That Christmas I gave you an aphotic
steel teapot and you taught me
how to make chai.
I filled the gaping vessel’s mouth with tap water
while you peeled slices of unwashed
ginger root. Two spoons
of Taj Mahal ground tea, a mouthful
Cardamom pods, cracked with your crooked teeth
and pried open with fingernails, tossed
helpless in the boil. Milk
an opaque white stream
soothing dark spiced water.
The sweetness we could never agree on.
My slow honey, your raw
sugar. That Christmas you gave me words wrapped
in a lilting accent and I taught you
how to say I love you.
I opened my mouth to take you in
while you peeled away clothes from the night
before to spoon,
together, on the mattress.
You bit my shoulder, red fissures from teeth
while I pulled your frenzied hair. Lost together
in the cheap red sheets,
I never came last.
And the sweetness
we could never agree on.
Two memories from when I was three
define my mother and father. A bath in the chipped
tub bubbling from generous squirts of dish
soap that dried my skin. We could never
afford the real things.
The plastic horse squirt gun, half
full. My father came in
to shave his neck, swiping the blade neatly
around his moustache. When he finished,
he turned and scanned my naked body.
I shot him in the face,
scrubbed away his searching eyes and that
is how I learned what a gun is for.
I suckled my mother’s breast until I could speak
because she wanted me to. The warm milk
filled my mouth, spreading to my limbs
like a drug. I lay on her chest in their bed,
a cartoon boxing match between a chicken
and a lamb on the TV. They squealed in one ear,
her heart beat in the other. As a bell rang and the animals
began circling, the nipple engorged
against my tongue, grotesque and huge, and that
is when I learned what teeth are for.
Years later, I watched my best friend’s
try to cover her mother’s
chest with a blanket while her infant brother
was breast fed. A child discovers shame
as quickly as a farm animal
gets the metal bolt to the brain.