Proceeding from Hélène Cixous’s charge to “kill the false woman who is preventing the live one from breathing,” The Fix forges that woman’s reckoning with her violent past, with her sexuality, and with a future unmoored from the trappings of domestic life. These poems of lyric beauty and unflinching candor negotiate the terrain of contradictory desire—often to darkly comedic effect. In encounters with strangers in dive bars and on highway shoulders, and through ekphrastic engagement with visionaries like William Blake, José Clemente Orozco, and the Talking Heads, this book seeks the real beneath the dissembling surface. Here, nothing is fixed, but grace arrives by diving into the complicated past in order to find a way to live, now.
“Woman Seated with Thighs Apart”
Often I am permitted to return to this kitchen
tipsy, pinned to the fridge, to the precise
instant the kiss smashed in.
When the jaws of night are grinding
and the double bed is half asleep
the snore beside me syncs
to the traffic light, pulsing red, ragged up
in the linen curtain.
I leak such solicitous sighs
to asphalt, slicked with black ice, high beams speed
over my body whole
while the drugstore weeps its remedy
in strident neon throbs—
I doubt I’ll make it out.
It’s a cold country. It’s the sting of quarantine.
It’s my own two hands working
deep inside the sheets.
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About the Author
Lisa Wells is a poet and nonfiction writer who lives in Tucson, Arizona. Her work has appeared in Best New Poets, the Believer, Denver Quarterly, Rumpus, Third Coast, and the Iowa Review.
Read an Excerpt
Consulting the pie of pastels I discover it's Monday. The garbage bin is tipped on two wheels and driven down the walk by the grave
valet — in pajamas, pale blue silk stuffed into my boots and zipped into the down parka, an ambulatory cloud.
I don't care what the neighbors think.
In the bedroom, the stain of last night's jag evaporates from the pillowcase.
by a writhing.
Year of the drought and the vortex.
dispossessed for some time now in the street, an icy wind bats at my drawstrings
and my hands, I notice,
the Accuser hath Enter'd into me as into his house
— William Blake
Like phantom limbs, we've learned the source of the inner voice
is in its signal. Bantam song
while dinner resumes below.
One white plate heaped with peas,
Strike a tuning fork to cancel
pure tone quakes from prong to cranium
trips the neurochemical glitch.
If these transients rise oracular at their bench if they slur against your cower
remember when you're sore afraid:
No lightning strikes this deep in the field.
As for sight, Blake's painting sears.
If it's Cain who strides from Abel's corpse hands against his temples to stub the mother's howl
(though the howl is in his house)
don't mistake him for your brother.
You are the stony garden
and sun leaks into the firmament.
You're the trembling flame that fevered
and the slain infant in the mother's womb.
If the voice says you'll lie in the indelible peace of a slaughtered dog
take her at her word.
If she says jump bitch: comply.
Self-Portrait with Hands
The girl runs her hand the length of one mutt's spine with tremulous care and she is the song advancing
from the bullhorn, bungeed to the roof of the propane delivery truck, suave call of the man repeating
The city, wrapped in static, sings to being
though the pistil is twisted, painfully pinched bedded in broad magenta petals
the bougainvillea blushes, labial.
Let every wound be dashed to the hand of a woman.
2. "Hombre de Fuego"
Nuns flock, in habit, near my bench to study the murdered worker's grimace agonized in perseverating light, they carry
their own shade. For every torqued expression in the vaultings of the nave: a blister on the nude ascending
into the cupola.
how easily we flatter, humiliate,
Orozco knew — too much touch gluts sensibility, and seduction's just another stick-up nice and slow
come out of your lie with your lies up
3. "La Chata"
brazenly flush with collagen — I ache to pluck the pale finger and drag so I guess the wine is working.
I'm fresh as a scalded babe!
the boys delivering bowls in the Birria kitchen with its high wall of brightly painted tile,
bearing such heavy trays,
My god am I obvious.
a prodigious drunk who claims she's never missed anyone
to miss everything. Need, for example,
through tall palms and each frond's edge an immutable blade.
Detectives discovered a divot in the sapling where the killer tested his garrote —
He'd been casting for necks when I stepped off the bus this morning, moist towel of Dramamine girding my brain. I was sitting in the Travel Center
dining room, near the wall of shotguns and plasticized bass, when a child came to offer me the leash of her balloon. Lake Havasu Sunrise
Rotary Dance & Derby. My reflection in the Mylar and that of the girl — were bent.
off Hwy 40, in the backseat of your mother's car,
stalled the wonder if
I've been confused. A man moves his quaking hand inside my tights and weeps. Don't like the thing he does but I eat the Poptart after.
Outside this window, boats stock the reservoir with carp. Heavy rigging drags the aqueduct for evidence.
Theory of Knowledge
Alive on the highway shoulder.
tossed a can from his cab and I scrambled to retrieve it.
Cut like a twig and titless the boys said
Crossed my arms over my chest in the frigid stock room of the mini-mart while a classmate donned a nylon bib and counted my cache into his hamper.
So I whipped a boy at school with my windbreaker and where my zipper caught his shin, he split.
Blood slipped through the fold mercury slow.
For that, a teacher faced me toward a wall to think about my wrongs.
I don't need a wall to know.
We circled in the bedroom of the trailer and passed a can of Spring Rain Glade.
Our careful mouths stretched over the nozzle,
I lay back on the bed expanding,
and stared at a poster of a kitten in bobby socks and saddle shoes.
The good god placed that kitten in my eye,
but could not spare me the fingers of fatherless boys.
The prettiest of us had babies with three different dads, she manages
an all night IHOP off the interstate.
in a strapless dress, the delicate sleigh of her clavicle caught
the light of a naked bulb and I prayed to god Please let me be her
and the god of the refried cigarette the No-Doz overdose
in his singular mercy didn't answer.
Roused on the isthmus dividing eastbound and westbound, launched from the grill of an '86 Cutlass, wicked knot throbbing
on my crown. I remember the driver swerving. I stood absolutely still. Ascension omitted. That frame's been clipped
along with the wire joining input and animal fear. It was the year I attempted to defect
to the lion enclosure, stuck neck-deep in the bars the pride stirred, rose upon their haunches.
in my mind's eye. What a difference a foot makes
of the subway platform.
one eye looks inside, one away.
to slather my head in margarine and slip me back to my keeper's hands.
"Woman Seated with Thighs Apart"
Often I am permitted to return to this kitchen tipsy, pinned to the fridge, to the precise instant the kiss smashed in.
When the jaws of night are grinding and the double bed is half asleep
the snore beside me syncs to the traffic light, pulsing red, ragged up in the linen curtain.
I leak such solicitous sighs to asphalt, slicked with black ice, high beams speed over my body whole
while the drugstore weeps its remedy in strident neon throbs —
It's a cold country. It's the sting of quarantine.
No more infinite opening.
I go get this diagnosis.
Symptoms to order the affect.
Deep in my circadian clock the seasons wheel but something stays
Cardinals, ganged up in oaks,
The fix will not get in me.
To unite us.
snuff one self but the urge continues,
from dog to dog.
Better to go on I read in the book I took from mother.
Mother, in your hands my head is not such bad creation.
I mean, the fault's not in your fingers.
If I could just retrace my steps and
find the fix.
Sallow, furred, I wore my sores.
wake in aching cysts. Insist on oil-free,
nothing makes it better.
In the myth, The Rough Faced Girl levels clear as glass, achieves a husband.
Moral is: the out reflects the in.
I keep clean, enraged, rough bitch in me clicks her claws, swipes and overtakes
the pretty little things.
If it's blanched and fat with fluid drop your pick and puncture it.
I stitched my mask of hide- snout- sinew- talon- and rode the vast savanna to war
in my former life. I was the hybrid. I sewed my brutal double-helix into a
and packed her boots with greasy wool that felted as she walked in bright
stratified color. Carpathian bronze couldn't buy her off when she leapt at the throat of my lover.
Him I called The Lion for his yawn and yellow ringlets.
I placed a Deglet date upon his tongue, I pressed the golden scarab into amber, straddled all his lap, kissed
my cresset to the yurts of my superiors
and in this life, I think I'd like to do more damage.
brushed up on some supernal sublimation. An asteroid
is falling toward the planet packed in ice
big as a big building
* * *
it's little old me: the dream of the grunt who flexed in cathedrals of concrete
who deafened in hydraulic hush
to bring home the bacon and Oleoline.
* * *
for my forbear labored deep in a hospital basement
fed biohazards to an incinerator.
Objects issued from the hole,
bodies above — revised,
down a blind aluminum chute to his hands.
* * *
his hands that gripped the hips that dropped
the egg that met the fish that struck
the match in me I'm burning
and they say the rock will miss the earth, but just.
did not "break."
into the sink nicked this scattershot of blood across
my fingers' webbing.
every hour the news wraiths through the radio.
shadow chills the pale forms.
will conclude in the forests of Ecuador;
–– why beholdest thou the mote
––of little faith; little lamb; locust
In Iowa, I lay a pebble in the inroad
every time I fill 'er up
The Cochin Cockerel
strung up by the shanks, will not say who's guilty.
One hand pins his wings to his breast while the other draws the blade
drains his thrash into a blue plastic bucket.
Spinning, blood-spattered ballerino in my arms
I gather him again, his umber cape warm in my palm,
Dependably, a hood is cinched to cover the broken gaze
bound wrist to wrist pulse to pulse
the scaffold pledges sleep but the feet dance on in the clatter.
We lived on earth, were prone to pack like dogs, my friends and me.
We die like dogs while milk sings in somebody else's mouth.
You want to talk about redemption?
freezing in space. Tell the Father with his hopeless charge — Heal the sick
Raise the dead
there's a wound in me and everyone knows
you should never trust what comes to you limping.
Now that the gods are limping in knotted cord and ring of thorns,
Someone rolls the boulder back.
In the logical library, in the steady hands of science I circle the stacks, abstracted. Some innovations pollute the mind, send the soul skittering to shade. Observe the caged girls stroked by truckers hauling long out of Kelso. The habit of kerosene to glow romantic. Disfigured honey. Enter my eyes.
Didn't motor oil smear that rainbow in me?
Excerpted from "The Fix"
Copyright © 2018 Lisa Wells.
Excerpted by permission of University of Iowa Press.
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