Living in Heat
We kept rabbits as pets. From them I learned
how to live in our flat inland stretch
skirted by those rushing somewhere past burned
skin, past the heat so hell hot it can catch
and distill memories, those confessions framed
in shame for burning acts we failed to do.
Yes, rabbits housed in hutches. We named
them something adorable. As I grew,
they and their names have been forgotten,
which is unfair—because rabbits can recall
in their rapid breath and bedtime cotton
human routines and rituals and all
the indignities of creatures who fall
asleep confined, who wake to creep and crawl.
Holding the Quick Shiver
I cupped the rabbit’s head and cradled its tail
as always. That day, an Edenic snake—
just a quick shiver really—crossed our trail.
Poisonous? My father grabbed a metal stake
or perhaps a shovel. He brought it down fast,
decapitating the snake with one hit.
The rabbit scratched, drew blood until at last
my father gripped it by the scruff, raised it
by that fur on its neck until it stilled.
Then he rocked and stroked it with husbandry touch.
After that day when the snake was killed,
I walked gingerly between house and hutch,
pushing past the panic at that spot of dirt,
holding so tight that nothing could hurt.
Vigilance and Vigils
His porcelain angel, His china doll. He didn’t need a papal council to vote
his daughter into sainthood, to mark a feast day on which he could pray to heal all
bruised by his iniquities. He understood retribution. Because of his sowed wild oats,
his porcelain angel, his china doll
fell to earth, lived a scant two years with the stench of milking cows and goats,
with tractors that tip, rattlers that strike, coyotes that call, with lethal
chemicals that bleach and bleed, frayed electric that smokes into throats—
Appalling, all on the farm that stomps, mauls or kills. How could he foresee the most
deadly was that small pet door through which she could wriggle, crawl,
waddle to pool deck? He found her adrift on reflected sunlight, her spirit afloat.
His porcelain angel, His china doll.
A California native, JCM Eldred received her Ph.D. from the University of Illinois and now teaches in the MFA program at the University of Kentucky. She is the author of two nonfiction books: Sentimental Attachments and Literate Zeal. Her latest book, of collection of poems entitled More Sonnets from the Portuguese, is forthcoming in Fall 2016.
Note: The poems “Living in Heat” and “Holding the Quick Shiver” are used by permission of Whitepoint Press LLC. They will be appearing in More Sonnets from the Portuguese this fall.