/clare welsh


Women cut themselves open
for the beauty of predators. Rouging
my snarl, I remember my first
tough bitch: Were it not for her teeth, she would have been
stunning. But her stained gums. Her
maw of broken home.
I was a child and she was child-like. I was a child
and she was crazy—that’s the story.

(Wielding criminal statistics
like baby fists, a pop psychiatrist
in Psychology Today twists
the crazy-violent riddle as if it were
a neck: Does crazy
cause violence or does violence
cause crazy, our confetti word
for other, for annihilation for
animal? My adult perspective intrudes
parenthetical to childhood,
it does not cannot

Her bite, a pit of hot light
and mute. So much silence
you could build a house with it. Then
a far ringing, the house of silence
collapsing under noise, a meteor
through the living room and the wolfdog
running off, whining—
regretfully, I hoped, though I knew better.

(“The wolves follow their meat.”
—Jack London, The Call of the Wild)

Trailing hair, scalp
slid through my fingers. When she saw me,
my mother dropped a wine glass. I couldn’t tell if the sound,
the shattering, was outside
or inside me. At the hospital,
I got a lollipop and a rabies shot.

(Got, that guttural Norse verb of calamity
: I got no face left.)

I wore gauze, but I was a child and didn’t care
what I looked like. I didn’t know
children were supposed to look
like anything. The surgeon beautified me.

Cutting the face from childhood,
the adult perspective coos
you’ll thank me later.)

I have two faces. One, the reflection in the mirror. The other
no one will love, though I feel it
longing for touch, scabbing
up through skin. Habit keeps me
dyeing the silver hair
springing from the one
scar the surgeon couldn’t make
pretty, the pale line disturbing
the scalp you could say
gently, in the way a needle is gentle
as it silences, forever, an animal
on a clean table surrounded by well-meaning
adults. I raise fruit from my mercy-killed brute,
paint my farmhouse white.

(I build a life).

The Road Back

I start at the end of the Pacific Coast Highway with one
long word I can’t pronounce
but sing, sometimes
cutting my tongue on gas station almonds
tasting of dust, the dead keeping in touch,

I start with a jar of dust. Toss it
to my muse, who juggles urns
like hot potatoes, Oh, my,
GOD, he says, I already have
five of these things. He fits the five urns
in the five cup holders of his getaway car
of red lacquer, of Springsteen-haunted radio
hiss: End up like a dog
that’s been beat too much

I start with my childhood dog, half wolf like I am
half bitch. Her name, cŵn Annwn, stutters like my last
ancestor in the immigration office, her song lilts
the sentence of don’t forget your mother
tongue, which lopes
lustrous as the death I chase for no reason,

I start with a reason but drop it in the biker bar
where the dead dads sing their regrets. They are
all the dead dads. Dead dads past. Dead dads future.
Dead dads of dead dads, and their dead dads
bellowing bluebirds,

I start with a light-leaked photograph of dad, think,
Damn, hating dads is American
as shooting children. My dad hated my grandfather,
his TV dinners and wristwatches, all that unforgivable
defeat. What will the patriarchy do
when it runs out of defeat? Will it
die, humiliated, only to learn Death
is a hot lesbian? Death upholsters her Camaro in jade,
gets tequila drunk at the club before screeching
to the Taco-Bell drive-thru where I find her cracking
nachos in her seven red mouths. This was never the land
of our fathers. I leave the Sierra Mountains
bleeding, buy a scratch-off ticket, jump on the first horse I find.

I start an American knight riding into
the American night, a cathedral smelling of gasoline
and smoking waitresses. Waving his great gold
dildo, the bishop yells HURRY UP.
I bristle my armor of habits. Scrape myself
with tattoos, sigils to keep
my taxes low, the shape-shifting bad boys
with their long hair out of my bed,

I start with my bed and stay in it. Listen
again to Born In the U.S.A. Visiting my hometown,
I feel like Bruce Springsteen in that I believe
a bold synthesizer can push grief
far from the political rally mistaking elegy
for anthem, that a snare drum can toss lyric higher
than the gods of war. I don sunglasses
for my walk to the kitchen, where I pour myself
a watery Diet Coke. Visiting my hometown,
I’m kind of a big deal, weeping
in the necks of horses, breaking speed limits
with my only lover left alive
here, on earth, I don’t hear the highway
for the deafening crocuses.

Clare Welsh is a poet based in Pittsburgh. A graduate of The University of New Orleans MFA program, her poems can be found in Puerto Del Sol and The New Delta Review, and forthcoming in The Massachusetts Review and Salt Hill. Her chapbook Chimeras (2015) is available through Finishing Line Press. Currently, she is working on a book about wild dogs.