Never Close a Knife Someone Else Has Opened (and other poems)

Never Close a Knife Someone Else Has Opened

my father hands me the knife, says look 
into the eyes before you take them, 

there where we sit on the front porch with 
my mother eager for me to step out of girlhood 

and into a well-pressed dress. my father 
says take god with the blade and cut

along the bone, careful not to spoil
the good meat grown from my mother’s

pumpkin pie we offer on paper plates. 
a man learns to hunt while a woman gives

birth, sets her babies in the windowsill to cool
like cherry tarts and asks how god could

leave her at the first sight of blood. 
wind chimes call the dead when we least

expect to hear them, stomp of hooves
on a gravel road until it’s almost here,

almost to my father where he asks me 
to remove the skin with my hands,

pull from the fur until I feel a hollow pop.
I don’t want to hold death like this, follow

god into a carcass we bled from a tree
as if it were nothing, were me, disposable

as any meat we suck from a severed rib.
tell me, whose god would make it so.

As Someone Must Have Made Me

god finds me in a public restroom
with my hair pulled back from my face, hand
against the toilet to keep me from falling to 
the other side where nothing exists unless 
I want it to, unless I ask for it to make a home 
in my body, the way my mother spoke me 
into cinder spark from an apartment downtown.
it’s the answer I want to hear at the clinic
to keep me from disappearing 
like the ghosts my mother sees at night, flashes
of yellow and white where the curtains pull together
just so, cat’s eye of moonlight a sliver in the dark
and no one sees me standing there, featherless bird
as someone must have made me.
I turned this god away when I was born
and again when the crop circles staggered 
their spiraled prints as if carried on the wings of bees,
but always someone brings him to my feet,
covers my eyes with a shroud and there I am
unfurrowing myself in the shadow of a 7-Eleven.
even in this restroom where the walls could be pearl,
dust catching the sun’s gaze like tiny crystals
someone tossed into the air, almost beautiful, 
how I’d imagine god’s breath to flicker before
it’s gone, before I release it.

I’m Open to the Concept of an Afterlife

 	and in it I smell the sweet fruit of what comes after,

persimmon painted the halo of a flame, not sun

 	or sunset as someone may have claimed it was 

before there was fire. if you sit with me long enough,

 	I’ll touch your hand with the soft of my wrist, how

veins color me into blues and greens like the ocean

 	where I lost my best pair of shoes and isn’t that 

like saying goodbye to a friend, watching them 

 	float into the unknown without you. the truth is I’ve lost 

myself, not in the water but the earth, the time sheet

 	punched into little perfect spheres. my name

becomes the grocery list left stuck to an empty cart.

 	if you sit with me long enough, I’ll write you a list 

of tastes, personify your unmade bread until it walks

 	through the door, doughy and delighted to see your teeth. 

once I made a baby with nothing more than hope

 	and see how she turned out fine, sparked into the room

all sinew and tangled kelp. it isn’t enough

 	to replicate yourself, send your cells into the sea 

and wait for sharks, a body to return – there’s blood to be spilled

 	on the floor, in the car, on the windowsill smeared

but I always forget to clean it. if you sit with me long enough, 

 	I’ll bite into your cheek as if you could be fruit, as if 

the list was you and not me, dangling from the hood

 	of Hera’s open eye. 


  • Christen Noel Kauffman is a 2022 National Poetry Series finalist and author of Notes to a Mother God which was a winner of the Paper Nautilus Debut Chapbook Series. Her work can be found in A Harp in the Stars: An Anthology of Lyric Essays, Tupelo Quarterly, The Cincinnati Review, DIAGRAM, Smokelong Quarterly, and Hobart, among others.

  • The colorful images below, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, were painted by an unidentified artist sometime around the turn of the twentieth century. These portraits on silk each represent a particular character from one of nine plays. Like most operas of this style, the characters hail from diverse sources — literature, military history, and myth — but play stock parts. There are four basic roles in traditional Peking opera: sheng, dan, jing, and chou, each of which have numerous subtypes. Sheng and dan are male and female leads (historically both played by men), jing is a villain, and chou, the clown. As Mei Chun details, complex personas were to be avoided. “The flatness is deliberate. Flatness in characterization contributes to the effect of moral contrast while rounder characterization could lead to ambiguity and disorder.” The characters’ painted makeup, known as lianpu, tracks back to masks worn by dancers during the Tang dynasty, and is mainly used for jing and chouroles. The colors and expressions convey moral qualities that were easily legible to audiences of the opera. From Public Domain Review