THERMOS 10: Two Poems by Hunter Deely

Two poems from our special issue of THERMOS featuring Hunter Deely’s poetry. You can check back every couple days in the coming month for more of his poetry. For an introduction, see here.

The Luminous Mutton of Montpellier

Montpellier, France ‧ 1641

                And the putrefaction doth spread.
                                ‧ Francis Bacon

A woman woke on a warm night to find
her kitchen filled with white light.

Night in the land of restless peasants
fills with the force between cells
that leaks out as the rot sets in. The whole
village come to see what voice spoke
from the hunk of lamb swinging like Christ
from the rafters. That it was slaughtered
with a blade that set the moonlight inside
its body, that it was fed on rosemary
and thyme that set essential fire to its blood.

Or the devil had come to call out then,
spreading, without explanation, like death.

Kerrville, Texas ‧ 1994

                The light does not originate from putrefaction,
                nor is it begotten by it, but only laid open

                                ‧ Thomas Bartholin

One night when you were a child
you walked home by the deer trail
along the limestone hill, without
a flashlight. The first thin snow spread
patches along the brittle effluvia of
white lichen on oak bark. You
approached the tree on whose limb
grew a cactus with a single, dark
optunia. You had passed this
vegetable coil a thousand times
before. But tonight a dead stag
splayed his body across the trail
as if he still leapt a rusty fencewire.
Eyes missing. Lips pulled back
over the molars in a feral grin.
In his open chest the murmur
of grubs. And light ‧
no metaphor for it ‧
poured from the sockets where
once it refracted, and the gums
shone silver and the bones made
a map of the stars in autumn.
And from the rotting stumps
that sunk back into the hill like
water, the same light was rising.
The snow streaks moonlit.
And your breath was white and
            burning, and luminous,
as the cold entered you and left
you without your instruction.
The optunia in the cactus the
only dark body in a landscape
of ghosts, and inside its flesh
the deep red juice was turning,
and you looked down and your own
body was dark, burning, and alive.

This poem’s title and quotations are taken from “A History of Luminescence,” E. Newton Harvey, Dover Press: 1957.

For War

The dead hare kicked. In a pickup bed
kicked up toward Castor and Pollux
on a field of rust and paint blue-flecked.
Under our boots a scorpion nest, but
though they hid from the cold air we
were real men. When you kill a pregnant
mother the children don’t immediately die.
They sense the blood around them
slow to the dull shift of gravity, the tide
of the distant sea in every vein. I held
the flashlight with numb knuckles taut
while Chuck opened his knife and cut
the orphans out and let them fall, one
by one into a plastic bucket and whistled
to call the dog from the shed. Everything
both alive and fresh-dead emanating steam,
breath hung on the cold crystals of light
like cactus spines. Their skin clear as an eye
that knows you’re lying, you could see right
through to the ribs and the thin, blue veins
and the blind-sucking lungs, the ghosts of
warm vapor rising while the dog reached
in and gnawed their soft, silent bodies, slow.
Sirius, they call the eye of the dog. It burns
brighter than any other; than Orion’s belt
or the belly of the hare. I could mourn how
cruelly we watched them devoured,
born early in winter to make us, fourteen
years old, feel strength, and death, and wild-
hearted and warm. But it was a cold night,
and the dog was hungry. And soon, we reached
the age where some of us would head off
in a truck bed, with a gun, still children,
                                                                              for war


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