Paula Bohince

of Plum, PA

Winner of the George Bogin Memorial Award in 2013

The Lady and the Unicorn

 

       i.                  

Last supper of butterscotch pudding
cooling in its cups, or graham crackers skating
across the plate as we glided from
kitchen to television, in God's palm, each
could have what he wanted: milkshake
rich with egg, or angel food cake, or toast
so butter-soggy it sagged.  Raggedy but happy,
we possessed the happiness of lunatics
in our tangled hair and robes.
Our stories were original, the fire brilliant,
Daddy sprang from his chair to stoke it, then
scratched his back on a post, or we did it
for him, his face a mask of pleasure, while
the mother needle-pointed pictures of houses
with kind phrases below them.

ii.

Dumbstruck in the theater of his Aqua Velva
and her Estée Lauder, in the fog
of his despair and the mania of her anger,
his cheeks slapped red with ice while the heat
of her pulse points bloomed again
the roses and revived the animal's musk.
She was a greenhouse, relentless
in her improvements, he was the winter
she fought.  His scent curdled to the horror of
"without washing," her hatred increased.
He became the air before snow's arrival,
then its paralysis, the sharpness of its swoon,
the dirt beneath cadaver-cold,
tamed at last by her and her persuasions
to simply die, and he did, the odor of a carcass
against spring's fearsome blossoms.

 
iii.

We were three ducks, aligned in a cast iron
reservoir, two helpless ducklings
and their equally helpless mother, adrift in the steam
and revelation of what our bodies
would become, in the scummed water and slide
of soap, where did one end and the other begin?
Satiny ribbon of bubble bath to prettify
the landscape, clouds hid our nakedness
but broke open, undressing us again.
Hit of hot water against familial
skin, we writhed and rubbed shampoo, cried
against the comb, the tongue of washcloth
softened, and Bishop's battered and shiny moon
waited outside, although I couldn't feel it then.                         

 
iv.

What words were heard, hurled from on high,
high-pitched and hoarse, in call
and response, between demonic silences, no white
buffers, no ellipses for what cannot. . .
Whore and corpse bedded, useless wed faggot.
Viciousness the new intimacy, new intercourse.
Their closeted children became
ears, conches absorbing the sea's meanness,
eyes collected that violence, mouths, vaginas…
From the gut's bile and acid,
from a swamp of excrement, they created
a creature of language and listening, they labored
to demonstrate, monstre to monster.
Miraculous energy and sutures to make it move.

v.

He shat and smoked on the toilet, and she
teased her hair, and he strutted in his underwear,
and she sewed our clothes with a hideous
machine, she opened her hands from the prayer
position and wept openly into them,
he crashed through the rooms and vomited.
He slept and we watched, when he was
banished, he curled on the roof to watch us.
The seasons undid, then recommenced.
Blizzard the white dog was lost in,
menace of summer thunderheads, the sun
found us, always.  We stared into its apocalypse
and were not blinded, as promised.  When
we closed our eyes, we saw kaleidoscopic reds
and oranges that were the bonfire of the world.

vi.

Awed before the spot-lit and massive
tapestry, I understand it was not for nothing:
those experiences, that family.
The mystery of the sixth panel— Love or
Imagination or Something Unspeakable—
matters no more.  Re-loved
in a foreign darkness, I am warmed by
the same flame as the monkey, the rabbits
threaded at the hem, the genuflecting lions.
The after of anything tends toward harmony.
Those people laid down their lives,
like servants, so that I might flourish.
Let me speak, then, in a dialect of humility
and see, fully, their gifts.  If I leave no lineage
on earth, let me leave this.

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Cate Marvin on Paula Bohince

These poems occupy a domestic battleground, specifically that of a childhood arrested in a glaringly dysfunctional household. They admirably capture ugliness and beauty alike in the movements of the parents whose children suffer their harrowing and bizarre warfare. Sure, this is subject matter we see addressed often enough in the "post-confessional mode." However, this writer possesses a purity of vision and an aptitude for sorrow that makes such telling no mere confession, but rather a heated and virulently real habitat, in which we endure the experience of the children recognizing that "Viciousness [is] the new intimacy, new intercourse. / Their closeted children became / ears, conches absorbing the sea's meanness, / eyes that collected that violence, mouths, vaginas  . . . ." I was impressed with how this writer veered clear of sentiment, all the while moving me, as reader, to recognize this personal history as a larger story of how, in the poet's words, love sought, wrecked, and again sought is "beauty, horror, then beauty again."

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