Culling through the Winter/Spring 2010 volume of the Crab Orchard Review, published twice yearly by the Department of English, Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, I found this darkly whimsical play on Japanese imagery and knew I had found this week’s poetry pick.
According to the Contributors’ Notes at the time publication, the author of this poem – Tara McDaniel – is a student at the Bennington Writing Seminars. Her previous work has been featured in Cimarron Review, Marginalia: The Journal of Innovative Literature and Gloom Cupboard.
My Stepmother, Having Returned
to This Earth, Becomes Hannya
When my stepmother unzips her body bags and snaps
The rubber tag from her toes, I know
She’ll creep into the kitchen and slake her immortal
Thirst with 6 bottles of beer. She’ll sucker at the glass
Greedily to get at its yeasty fizz, remembering – quite
Exactly – where they keys to my gate are. Down
Into the basement she’ll trundle, her tail
Growing long beneath her pile of dressings,
Making a hollow sound
Where her serpent-belly slaps at the stone. A likely darkness:
Black cabinet, squeaky doors, stale air, and Hannya
On a bed of velvet. A little key behind one eye.
Her claw will lift this wooden mask
To her face: slavering jaw, hard-boiled egg eyes
Cheekbones shaped like mallets,
Crescent horns rising from the wild hair
Weeping over her forehead and shoulders
Like spilled Japanese ink. She’ll put the key
Deep inside her throat, for safekeeping. Tomorrow,
When the sun rises again over my back garden,
She’ll wait out the morning till I’ve returned dozing
To cough up the key, graze her claw over my door.
Note: Hannya is a mythological Japanese character, a vengeful and jealous female demon. She is represented in traditional Noh theater by a horned mask.
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