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A Swiftly Tilting Ode

Artwork by Rita Chen, staff artist

From a Schizophrenic Man, to the Hyena Holding Him Hostage in His Apartment

You laughing bastard dark snout sickle grin

make the shadows bend and twist with you when

the light catches your black peeled-grape eyes a

certain way your face looks like my shrink

my parents my roommate who still lives here

pinned me to the couch paws already clamped

on my wrists it was inevitable

that you’d track me down the gray walls of my

apartment shudder with tight-packed movement

(it’s your friends listening licking haunches)

I should have been ready for you don’t think

I didn’t sense you tracking me tilting

your pink noses to the air and breathing

my scent I know how you hyenas work

I had plans for a bunker almost bought

myself a shotgun but I chickened out

after my roommate talked me out of it

you, my parents and my shrink are licking

their lips which are your lips the lips of everyone I know

and when the light catches your corpse-knee eyes a

certain way I think I see the devil or my roommate

and when you lean in close and lick my face your friends

laugh harder and rattle the walls and floor

(they’re eager they’re ready for the kill)

the air smells like my blood and you just sit there on my

chest and smile and in this moment the hyena breaks

open head splits eyes go white and light pours out

inside of your face is the face of everyone I miss hidden under your fur

but it’s not fur it’s fine blonde hair and it’s not fine blonde hair

it’s denim and it’s not denim it’s aftershave and sawdust prayer shawls baseball caps cigars

so you come close and kiss me and hand me my last paycheck nestled inside a pink slip

and give me this month’s dosage clutched in nicotine-fingers

and tell me you love me and want me home in whatever vestige

of memory home constitutes now and sorry and then your

teeth are in my neck hot brushes in my skin you are speaking with your

mouth full my chin buried in the greasy top of your head and as blood

pulses down my shirt I gasp out what do you mean I can’t hear you tell me

but even if your mouth was empty each of you is speaking something different

and suddenly I don’t want you to go I need you here I need to

listen to you babble on forever I need to be torn asunder

by your teeth taken in surrounded warmed

want my apartment full of life again even if that means my blood

smeared on the walls and floor for

your friends to lick up (it’s okay, they’d be my friends too and I would let them) because

when your world is nothingness and stale air and rent and meds and you are all these things

yourself you have no choice but to make rituals or hyenas or families out of the void and

breathe life into them and if I’m seeing you now if you’ve found me that means I’ve nadired

and been running from the revelation you are telling me this I can hear you saying it

and I’m gagging into empty darkness grasping at you and crying

and you let me go and stare at me

and you are just a hyena again with a flash in his eye

your mouth is open like you have something to tell me something to make the air

explode with meaning I’ll feel in my chest before the dust clears and

we embrace hand in hand in paw

no longer alone and empty

(there was no roommate but you know that don’t you

he was pillows and dusty air shaped into

everything I needed)

but you stalk off and slink away behind my couch tail between bony legs

and when

I jump up and look for you snapped back to

form you’re just gone nothing under my couch

and when I listen for your friends in the

walls they’re in retreat shuffling through floors

and I want to sink down sob laugh howl chatter and

call your name to beg you back but I don’t

know which of your names to call so I’m left

here patting my neck looking for blood and

finding only fine fangmarks in fabric.

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