Our town is a small jungle where rumors travel
faster than the sound of danger on the wind.
Intruder, it says.
You don’t belong here.
I have heard the whispers, the way the young men lean
into one another with bent elbows,
the flick of their tongues when they speak of women.
When they speak of her. Outsider.
The girl with the accent no one can quite place.
She wears her wildness like a perfect coat of lipstick
or leopard-spotted sunglasses nestled in the blond coils of her hair.
In the parking lot, the women huddle like lionesses
in the shade, teeth bared in the bald summer heat as they watch
the smooth glide of her hips, the sun-kissed savannahs
of her bare, tan limbs thick with antelope
as she slides into the leather seat
of her slick, black mustang GT, the soft, hilly plains
of her gunning by at 90 miles per hour, engine roaring.
We are a tribe.
The women watch her disappear
into the flower of the fading sun. They gossip and smoke
cheap cigarettes, leave red smears on the filters,
cross and uncross their arms like tired midwives
and laugh, mumble things like “whore.”
The men have gone hunting, eager
to bury the bright arrows of their penises
into damp, golden earth.
We are a tribe, and she
is the tiger spirit who lures men into
the trees, spits out the naked mess of their bones
on their widows’ doorsteps.
The women cluster around me, hem me in
like a lamb in a pen. I am no longer a threat.
We are a tribe; they want to hear their priestess speak.
They bare the long columns of their throats to me,
pass me the ceremonial knife of shame.
However, I am not without sin, so I say nothing.
I hold my stones in cupped palms, feel their edges dig
into the soft bellies of the choices I made,
the consequences etched there,
head line, heart line.
I could split the world in two
with what I know. Once, I took a lover
to the river, allowed myself to be shattered against
the rocks like a golden apple, like the gates of Troy.
This woman’s husband, that one’s son
burning as bright as the North Star.
Somewhere in the tangled night, the tiger slumbers
with my blood and a smile on his lips.
I don’t know where this came from, but as I was writing, I was fascinated with the idea of this group, this “tribe” of women in a small town as they gossip about this new girl who has apparently moved into their territory. The speaker of the poem is the previous outsider, the youngest of the group, who has now been accepted into the fold with the arrival of this new “threat.” The idea evolved into something very primitive, very base. The speaker, however, is reluctant to condemn this young woman based on rumors alone. She has walked in her shoes and has secrets that she carries. These women trust her, but she has betrayed them already, and they either do not know or refuse to acknowledge her transgression. Perhaps she also sees herself as a bit of a victim, being “lured” to the river by her lover.
I was excited to attempt to juxtapose the modern social dynamics of a jealous group of women with more primal imagery. And, also, a weird nod to William Blake.
This is a rough draft, though. I’m sure it could stand a re-write or two. Any suggestions/thoughts are welcome, as always!