Variation on a Theme by Saint Blaise (Text Version)

by Henry Goldkamp

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most evenings, maw stretches out her dishwater
          dress. scratches her moon calf
                    with the other paw. lights bottle

rockets with ultra-lite cherries—
          her secondary air, her mint kiss.

this welting sky
          deafens the sun,
                    widdershins the hum

          of its heat. of its hymn played


the dance: my wife trotting
          to the body laughs at the rubber
                    of a catfishy stink. she puts out

offerings, punches
          out his whiskers with a rainbow
                    sparkler, bums a smoke off maw

and sparks his mask to magic.

bonhomie bottom feeder.

we watch his jaws, how his jaws
          of hell gape, purse, maw for breath
                    in the green crackle all see

before dying.
          sickle visions in this fertile valley:
                    flathead grease in the sheath of my dead
          mawmaw’s skirt. in my panting maw’s side.

we knife. we sup.
          my wife wipes her arm across her peachy mustache.


and what of our drowned daughter’s laughter?
          she only frolicked
                    but a minute—

isle smeared with her limp wash—
          after, we congregate on behalf
                    of our mouths and throats. pews of paint

buckets flipped and dripping.
          our fingers sticky with fresh weep.
                    our peccavis refuse clamor.

sobs swallowed nor hollers spit
          hickey the rictus, that pink abandon,
                    a silo riddled with bright kitties

and stray graffiti. we watch the words
          cut bloodlines out that bluecat.
                    we see the dreams noodle her

out the wet nest, oust the hellbent.

                    the river eats our kin cuz we sizzle its fish.


          catch and release is mantra

we heed not. I warned maw: don’t do
          cat ladies here. can’t quit their fuss once
                    the ferals plunge to their five-gallon coffins.

their sharp-toothed mew given no rehearsal.
          infect the land with their fights and their fucks.
                    then slur their purrs underwater with no luck.

our common ground: we all roar the swansong bald.
          my wife gargles bible verses at 5 am in the hopes
                    of hissing sacred and shrill and sharp.

what has our tongue?
          what has our tongue that this river don’t?

these three women mourn with me a bottle.
          o these three queens of surefire rigs.
                    o these riparian saints and dentists.

o ain’t speaking in tongues redundant?


we freak water tepid and blessed
          up a crazy straw.
                    we wet denizens unchurched

in violent tabernacle.
          sign a criss
                    in glottal stop. incisors fall

like cloud-frogs or petals of rotten windmills—
          ugly, terrestrial.
                    we are our god,
          the one we wonder, the one

scaring us, making us
                    safe at the top step.

two roman candles click
          a cardboard X. this fertile valley
                    cursed, we pass over ourselves.


my wife thumbs her callous in a gill,
          gushes its purple milk, dabs her wrists.
                    perfume of death, rich

enough to make her green.
          a tongue of usualness falls
                    at our feet, flops, flops, snagged.

look hard to its swollen eye,
          its ripped lip rolled in sand:
                    she’s just big enough to eat. and

you know what some say: you are
                                  what    you
                                                    you   are     what
                                                   what   you                  are             what
                                                                    you      are

                                                                                     what                you


Henry Goldkamp’s “Variation on a Theme by Saint Blaise” appears in Flock 23: Kith and Kin.

Henry Goldkamp is from Saint Louis. Recent work appears in Indiana Review, Diagram, South Carolina Review, and Notre Dame Review. His public art projects have been covered by Time and NPR.