“Orelia, from ever.” Poetry by Melanie Rae Thon

From the Collection As If Fire Could Hold Us

April 21, 2023  By Melanie Rae Thon

Eight twenty-nine p.m: Orelia Kateri sighted 242 times, missing thirteen hours: Spokane, Tetonia, Aberdeen, Wallace: Her parents following her through streets and alleys, more than five hours now, tracking her from one end of Seattle to the other: Orelia seen roaming downtown with a pack of children—and later, with night rising up—between trees, behind houses—Orelia just one of a thousand drifting through neighborhoods: here we are: rooting through compost, eating skinned skins and fermented fruit—and here: foraging in gardens, pulling up flowers and vegetables, feeding on leaves, loving rhizomes—

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We climb trees to fall out of them—

why do we not break
why are we not crying

We lean over bridges, wailing into the wind, daring one another to leap, howling our way from bliss to obliteration—

In dumpsters, in gullies, in garbage, we find missing parts: things once immaculate and now ruined: a miniature violin: wood warped by rain, neck snapped, strings dangling—bones in a sack of skin: thirteen ribs, twenty-seven vertebrae: the orange cat a relic of herself: tail chopped off, tail too tempting: the once-waving striped tail pierced by a hook, hanging behind clean clothes in a closet in a house where a child sleeps, protected by his mother—

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The boy with black dreadlocks jumps into a green bin, digs and digs, and there it is: a baby grand pink piano, fourteen of thirty keys gone or silent, and still the boy plays perfectly: a hundred kisses deep and more: the boy sings to her: first loved, first lost: baby sister—

From dirt and debris, trash tossed down a ravine, we unbury a doll with blue eyes—blind now, all head and no hair, stunned glass eyes rolling in their sockets—

Beatific Talking Betty, beloved Betty, do you dread life—where is your arm, your hand—one would be enough—is that your body—if a missing child pulls the string on your back, will the naked head start speaking—

Hungry, hungry, hungry—even Saint Betty starves—no more words of grace, no beatitudes, no blessings—

Whoosh of cars, falling water: in the park over the freeway, lost in a maze of sound, the cellist hides between slabs of concrete, pulling psalms from strings, hearing prayers through rivers—

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She might be an angel if not for the blue and black wing of a butterfly covering the right side of her face, thorns circling her neck, the tattooed viper coiling down her left arm, green lit with gold, opening its mouth wide above the elbow—

she’ll play all night
sleep is death & no music

We are not afraid—

Two paramedics rip wide the shirt of a dead man: one pumps the chest, cracking ribs, breaking the sternum: one jabs a needle hard against the thigh, delivers a dose of epinephrine potent enough to kill if the heart of the heart of the man had not so long ago failed him—

let the dead be dead
let the blood stay quiet

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And still the cello sings, the vibrations of its body pulsing with the one who plays: valves opening, blood surging: its range the range of human voices: hers and ours, the paramedics’, the dead man’s: strings humming into hollow wood—ribs and back, hard maple—heart, lung, open mouth—belly of spruce and long spine: the song of one becoming other

The man stays where he is—undearly departed—splayed on concrete, dread of life, refusing to rise: why stumble out of the cave to hear again sisters weeping

Heaven now would be home, hot chocolate, the warm kitchen—me and the dead man and the cellist and two dozen lost children—all of us and Betty restored to herself but blissfully quiet—and more, and ever—a man with hooks for hands; two tired paramedics—a multitude pouring into the house—so many I believe the house is a heart broken open—

The container of powdered chocolate and quart of milk keep refilling themselves; the tiny tin of lavender shortbread has no bottom, no end, no empty—

Father, you’ve come home
you sleep upstairs
you spoon my mother

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An emaciated man and flock of animals wait in the yard—as if I or anyone might refuse entry—

Long white beard, white hair tangled: he brings a Bengal cat with green eyes and spots like roses—beguiling, yes, but no more beloved by him than the ones tossed from cars, thrown from bridges—denied, disowned, scrapped, neglected: cats with torn ears and gouged eyes: frozen and revived: skins hot with sores; hair matted—a bite, a look, a scratch will kill you

He’s been fasting fifteen days: to be kind, he says: to be hollow

One red roan cow follows him: ivory-splattered rust, dark eyes, long lashes: she alone has escaped the slaughterhouse, battered her way out to walk this earth, gaze at clouds, graze on grasses—

Thirty-nine million cows condemned to die every year—one hundred and six thousand, eight hundred and forty-nine today—four thousand four, one hundred and fifty-two just now, this hour—

Three gray langurs have unlocked their cage at the zoo: missing, the posters say: black hands and ears, black feet, black faces—all less than two feet tall: do not be deceived: silky hair and sad eyes; delicate limbs; spectacular tails

Who else could have emancipated seven bears—blue, black, white, spectacled—irresponsible rebels: who other than they had reason to release thirteen flying foxes, five Siberian reindeer, one sleek civet whose musk will daze and destroy you—

Who besides a delinquent monkey would dare to liberate the eight-foot-long Komodo dragon: sixty serrated teeth; claws sharper than knife blades

Four llamas with shaved necks reel down the hill outside the house—they’ve spent their lives guarding goats or sheep, kept from others of their kind so that they might choose to protect the children of strangers. Now, together, intoxicated with the scent of roses and azaleas, haunted by visions of green plateaus, they want to go home—

that snow, those mountains

We would walk with them if we were not so tired—

Father, we would rather die than see the clouded leopard tracked and tranquilized, transported, leashed for walks, displayed on television—

The man blesses all who pass: camel, boa, flamingo, zebra—

nothing tame, no one wild

The coyote is here and not here—she’s evolved, become nocturnal—she’ll eat your trash, but prefers to snatch mice and voles—frogs; geese; fish; rabbits—she loves raspberries and fallen apples—she’s the ghost girl befriending wolfhound and terrier—shepherd, spaniel, basenji, poodle—she eats their food, drinks their water—

She circles just beyond the length of their chains; runs away with their bones; chokes them with frenzy—

She leaps and howls with the little Papillion at your window, but loves most your Irish Setter—desires as her own the feathery red flume of him, that waving wing of red tail—she chooses for herself, for ones unborn, this quivery, quick, superfluous beauty—

And so it is the fleet coyote carries silky red children into the world—

She has hurt; she has hunger—a family not so different from yours, a heart cracked by loss, memories of bodies close in the den: four brothers, one sister—parents who brought food; nipped and taught; nursed and protected—

How many now among the dead: shot; torched; drowned; poisoned—

Father, we want to wash the man, bless him, anoint him with basins of water—

Homeless before he was born and even he can’t say how old: forty-two, ninety-seven—

two thousand and thirty-three

A thief spared, forbidden to close his eyes, condemned to witness—

for you alone: this annunciation

Who but he can count—who remembers:

bluebirds caught in a blizzard
feet frozen to wires

vireos flying into refracted skies
glass & clouds
concrete & steel

red-eyed, yellow-throated
voices forever still

warblers, babblers
shrikes, greenlets

whole flocks of iridescent
starlings sucked
into the engines of airplanes

who but he hears
their gorgeous

thrushes, orioles, larks, flickers

each one speaking
directly to God
lungs full of fumes
wings flared in fire

Who but he imagines bowels and brains, lungs extending the full length and breadth of their impossible bodies—thousands, millions: so many lungs opening into the spaces of hollow bones, absorbing oxygen, exhaling or inhaling—

Who will tell of their huge hearts, six times the size of human hearts in proportion to their flying bodies—

vultures, swans, swallows, sparrows

Who sees the utter catastrophes of them; who gathers feet and splintered keels; who washes them clean, after—

far away, wind moves through grass
a prayer, a vast prairie of wind

here is the last word:
a whirr of wind
through white turbines

Father, the voice you hear now is not the voice you remember—

If I return from this, from ever, it will not be as one you know: I have been scoured out; I am transparent—


As If Fire Could Hide Us - Thon, Melanie Rae

From As If Fire Could Hide Us by Melanie Rae Thon © 2023. Used by permission of the University of Alabama Press.

Melanie Rae Thon
Melanie Rae Thon
Melanie Rae Thon is a recipient of a Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, a Whiting Writers Award, and a Lannan Foundation Writers Residency. She is the composer of thirteen works of fiction and poetry. Her most recent book is As If Fire Could Hide Us from the University of Alabama Press.

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