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Eleison for Solo Migration

The birds here 
Have not changed
They drop salt not seeds
Into my open mouth

Now—my back bare to the sky
Breasts buried in soil
Thrust into the darkness of this
Searching out each star

The fat lips of my horse
Taste my neck for food
This must be morning—
A roughness, gathering speed

The birds there
Have changed


the journey they call muerto
viaje de mujer muerta
is my journey from death to death—
the woman, this woman

running away and towards
when they say muerta, I hear renacimiento, resurgimiento::
Four hoofbeats, two hearts, all mine

in a western land in which I shall cause death
I swear it shall not come to me from man
My love is for my self 
in a land of death in which I cause my life

the west the ouroboros muerto
I will eat my rotten flesh to set it free
Sky burial—branches that were my arms
burning in the night

Mi supervivencia—my survival—my newest word
And my authority is astride now
My power and my glory


in the cities of the east
the bricks are factory fashioned
the windows of sand scorched to bleeding
it was a house they called a home

it was a crypt they called a wall
four of them aside
one above and
one below

the doors they made—factory fashioned to protect me
they said from what is outside
but what they locked inside with me, is now inside me
is what nearly killed me

the air so stale it stinks of man
there are no tall grasses in the city to obscure them
only tall hats, polished boots, short guns
tight fists in gloves of slaughtered lamb

lampposts with a fevered light
this is not the light I want to see by
this was the yellow urined light that showed me what I had become
And I will leave it there in pools, fetid

the east, the east
the cities of the east
they ceased at last
to hide him from me

what they prison within those badger hats
their bovine boots
the barrels of those tiny guns their factory doors 
the hate of me held tight within that lambskin grasp

my neck, my wrists, my mind
the crypt the home the carriage 
it was a murder they called a marriage
it was a slaughter we all called city


What can I call the wagon tracks that stretch behind me
How can I forget the carriage ruts that drove me out 
Scars cut parallel into the west by wheels are white behind me
Scars cut in pairs into the cobblestones by the tumbrels deep aside my spine

Only with this cunt pressed to horse spine 
Can I now speak of honor 
of Nation
Of freedom

Yet behind the grasses here are faces—
Why have you brought the reek of there to here?
In dreams I whisper back I have left that all behind

When walking I say, I’m sorry, I’m sorry—
I was not wanted there, either,
and I beg of you to let me stay
That, there, is the lie illuminated by the stars 
who strike their matches far above me

But hear this: in the west
I’m not sorry I’m not sorry
And when you hear me beg
I only say what is necessary 

I will lie to live 
I come west and I will lie to stay alive
But never again shall I speak them on my back—
only Kyrie Eleison, only Hallelujah


Each day this dress
the one I fled in
is more a thing of light
I lose each layer of boning

Cut out the stays against my ribs
And feel that I can breathe
There are forms here in bodies that seem free
I am ashamed of my dress 

Here heading west
I wash it in every river I can find
Scrape at it with rocks 
That reek—that reek becoming thinner on the wind

And downstream at the muddied edges 
the figures of the Creek
choke and cough and
retch now as they drink from it

and I know that sound
for I myself
have made it and I know myself
and have brought it here

this then is my sin: 
to take there to here
a holy place at which I beg
for entrance

the forms and faces in the grass are unconvinced
they have tasted the water
after I have washed in it
and they know me

what bruises I bear
what rot I hide inside my wounds
we do not want that here
they say and please permit me I say

Then I command my horse
knowing I will proceed despite—
I can no longer request permission


In the cities of the east the smoke does not bring flowers
I watch the wildness here burn at night
I ride along the blackened earth and here
I see new growth

No women
tumbling to cobblestones
through window panes
broken from within

But now green and gray shoots of life
Fresh blood a rare thing here
My menses I leave in clots
Wrapped in the leaves I leave behind

And I stink of it that smoke that factory that marriage carriage
that parloured soot the men the tall hats the gloved fists
the shattered cheekbone mine, mine the broken pelvis
They planned to call it a funeral—I call it a murder in waiting

I refused to lie back
in one—
Prey in a box
called casket


I sleep to stars
and wake to sun
The kill calls of four legged beings 
replace those monsters bearing only two

And I say here then I am free
Jornada del muerto 
No box contains me – no pine no brick no glass
Nothing that has been forced by the hands of man

A man 
That man
With silver tips to his citied cane 
And his slices down my soul

They open now, these slits
To let in something I can at last call light
And in the distance the Comanche watch me
Without words they tell me we do not want you here

And without words I speak to the figures in the mesas 
I no longer have the luxury to care
What you want 
What they want

Here is what I want 
And I shall take it inside me and birth out the death
I can no longer be forced to carry
that carrion which was me


My burden is lighter with each dawn
I am more naked
But thicker skin, and more brown
eastern flesh quick calloused by the sun

No stays, no corset, and I ride bare breasted
It is sweat that drips from my nipples now
Not milk 
I shall feed no one but myself

These teats are fuller than I thought possible
Aching heavy with each stride into the west
My stride, my teats dripping salt now
I taste it and dear God it is this desert

No sweetness comes to me from it
But sand in needful grains that roughen all my lips

Above and below
I ride bare without a dress 
Each night I sleep I am more


Behind me is the east and my back is burned
I kept my back stripped to the sun at first
It seared the scars cut deep  
We do not want him here threaten the Apache in the arroyos

Nor do I
I ride the ridge westerly
My silhouette lit bright
in the darkening sun

I am saying kill me if you must
I would rather die at your hands than at his
But they let me live
I know this is not merciful 


I am in the west 
Nearer the place
the fireball falls from heaven
without a trail of soot

For I have traced the rugs from room to room
Extinguishing each flame behind me in its sconce upon the wall
Holding a candle in my hand that leaves black marks upon my gown
I called it death, that thing that happened when I closed my eyes

But this thing that descends here is resurrection
A blanket and the driest earth no longer soil but sand
I wake with stones between my teeth
My body gold and pinked with dawn

No lamps to light here
God does that, or God is what they call it
That force that brings up light and then removes it
That unseen thing that rips the sun and tears the sky

No bricks here, no walls
But the darkness follows me
Whether it is night
Or not


Ask me
what is necessary
and I shall say
My life, now, here, in this place, at last

I will kill you for it
I will not lie down 
I will not be pinned or aethered
The boxes brick or glass are gone

The hysteric, the unconscious mind a harrowed place
I became quiet there – but not enough
He quieted me with words of softness
The kind of soft that a finger touches and breaks through

I will call it rot I will call myself carrion
All of us—flung upon—carnivorous
by good Christian men holding open
the rancid holes of their possessions’ flesh 

Our afterbirth thrown out in alleyways
This afterbirth I say now
This afterbirth I rub into my raw places
And all my places are raw in this body that knew a city

cries of pain in the city shadows 
Fear I said then, screams of fear
We all called them screams of fear

But the mouths of the city women reeked of rage 
The hand of our man covering
all our open mouths
So the neighbors would not hear

Tell me what is necessary and I will demand correction
All of it a lie—the perfect square of a laundry soap
and the meat wrapped cleaved in paper
The buttons laced on shoes too tight to run

The corset stays of whalebone—
It is my armor now against the past
I keep it under saddle
And wait for my broken ribs to harden 

How dare it wander west—
the cane, the whip, the top hats,
our butchers
How dare could they pursue

What is necessary is my revenge
The gun cradled now in my arm
has become my child
Its nimble back arched open for a bullet

What is necessary is that I possess 
And am no longer a possession
Under the cottonwoods I lie naked with my rifle 
And I know now what is necessary

Hailed as “universal and personal, comforting and jarring, ethereal and earthy” by Hyperallergic and “heady, euphoric, singular, surprising” by Publisher’s Weekly, Quintan Ana Wikswo (@QuintanWikswo) is the author of the collection The Hope of Floating Has Carried Us This Far (Coffee House Press) and the novel A Long Curving Scar Where the Heart Should Be (Stalking Horse Press). A Creative Capital grantee in Emerging Fields, her work has been honored by a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship at the Lynchburg African American Cemetery and a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Endowed Fellowship at Yaddo. She is the 2018 Mina Darden Endowed Professor of Creative Writing at Old Dominion University.