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Johanna Hedva


Whose brain?
Ah, the father's of course—
its drips and droolings, a man's miscarriage not of another just goo from the godhead.

On my deathbed,
with everything gone—
gods, ghosts, guilts, just get get get me down in my good gangrenous garden-grave
I know I'll still have one possession: the soupy sour memory of my father's stink.

When his head spurted me out,
self complete and totaled into orphaned wilds,
it took the smallest space of time,
an instant for him, a relief,
god's will—a curse on the daughter longer than the space between the last death rattled inhale
and its release.

Washed of the meconium by my 23-year-old father's hands,
a young Zeus sterilized in hospital latex.
Everywhere the color, the scent, of green.

The doctor had to check something, of course, vital to my life—
that my legs could be parted and spread open, that my pelvis would do its work—
"He spread your knees and pushed them out like butterfly wings All
to the table," is how my father tells and tells the story.

On my deathbed,
give me enough morphine so I can forget what's gotten caught, what keeps cauterizing: 
My first moments in the center of a ring of men,
easing like sloshing cream my pelvis
to wing open, to acquiesce                               I am a clamshell I am a cave with no end 
my mother behind us with her belly sliced open,
and an underpaid nurse doing the sewing up.


When they took him, they told Lowell:
"Where you're going, Professor,
you won't need your Dante."
And when they took me:
"Ma'am, where you're going,
you won't need your shoes."


Our first summer six weeks in we housesat a big house in Topanga Canyon.
Paradise road—haha—it was on; yolk-smell in the house like blood—my ex-husband
used to say, always, I tasted like blood.

The heat brought in every breath a sweet little searing were we breathing fire?
each sunset erasing my marriage my leaving an inhaling of you—do you
                                                                                             wanna talk about infernos? Or do you
                                                                        you wanna talk about

The first laundry day, we stripped the bed and
discovered a stain on their mattress, the size of a small child,
and old: body of the blood browned,
spread out tentacular like a puddle of sick, and
at the edges, yellow.

What had bled in the bed of these people, died a thing a part of a thing their thing?
For us, in that bed, we'd been making a new thing, or trying: a thing that later I'd lose
                                                                                                                                     (the blood like black ash),

our end an immolation faced inward, cracked, fire, spit,
but not yet—not yet—we still had hold of it then we still had it—haha—a ha ha—

in Topanga Canyon
our first summer
six weeks in.


Yesterday a witch told me that there are three demigod women with wings of eagles and faces
of old paper, who exist to fold their feathers around me and shriek at my crisis.

They use their red-toothed mouths to frighten away that which would put more holes in me
than have already been put there. They bleed from their eyes because their blood is boiling;

they are like birds who startle only at perforation, at my perforators, I am their egg.

I see my grandmother, when the ceiling pulls me into it, the one with the bird-shaped face,
whose swollen, wine-dark arm I wrapped my weeping around as she died.

I watched her die, not looking at the brown liquids that came out of her, but at the purple ones
that stayed inside. Shrinking bones and blood free to bloom like peonies, her new plumage.

Isn't there a myth that all women become birds when they're old?

That we will stoop, squawk, mouths beaky, dropping observations on our families, of how
the cake is so dry,
kitchen appliances and grandchildren so
inefficient, from the very high place on which we've earned our perch.

It's understandable how a mother once sweet as a turtledove winds up chewing on worms,
clutched far longer in her talons than was necessary to kill them.

What else, anymore, anyway, does she have to clutch?


It's naïve I know
to talk about
the shimmer that goes

down and back up me—
like pain when it's real—
during a rapture
of mine—                                       I mean, I know
there's a difference between the pain of an organ eating itself, 
and the pain of a thought crunching through another thought.

The mind boiling is still only a mind.

I—we—we work, the fools
                                                    who know we are fools,
at the blind but determined
excising of pleasures, we have to, it is, it's because.

Like they are tumors, ghosts, un-earthed and skinned: the thin ones oily ones useless
little lusts half-formed sightless eyeballs without any lids tiny fists of three fingers and the nub 
of a thumb folded old wounds wound in a strand of black hair I don't know I don't know a 
thing about how we believe the world's engine is beauty. I know, we have to.

I—we—a mermaid's soggy head after a long and sore canker.

These kinds of poetries, these kinds of loves, 
that float like grease to the top—

Don't trust them, don't waste hope.
Get them out, slice them off.


image—a mad old woman scuttling across the oklahoma plains, great coils of hay
              ghosts of her guilts                    her
              daughter runs after shouting a name other than her own name                    they collapse.

image—me collapsed like a corpse undone mouth tarry black crown of hair or illness fumed
             like the ink-blast of a disturbed cephalopod, i hold 
             a fossilized snail sealed in a stone, and think, if i had a daughter i'd name her Turritella.

                                                                                                                                  We can follow 
                                                                                                          the spiral of our DNA back 
                                                                                              to the beginning of time, 
                                                                                 holding our death:
                                                                    follow her:
                                                       say her name.

Johanna Hedva is a fourth-generation Los Angelena on her mother's side and, on her father's side, the granddaughter of a woman who escaped from North Korea. She is currently at work on two books: This Earth, Our Hospital (Sick Woman Theory and Other Writings), a political manifesto that converges with autohagiography; and The Twin, her second novel, an exorcism of twin-ness, queerness, and their attendant ghosts.