Denise Massingill


Stone and Bird

Give me a memory, you say. Only you don't really. Something between us begs for it as you stare at the blueness of the television screen. The sun sets somewhere behind these rooftops, I never learned where. Orange light streams through lace curtains. Shadowed flowers dance along wooden floors. 
           In the West, I say. Into Water.  
           That's where I'd go tonight.
           Water outside myself. 

If I release these words between us, will you diagnose me? 
Don't interpret. Just sit between the filtered light and listen.
Let me tell you about how one morning as a child, I found a rock that morphed into a baby bird by the end of day. In my hands, you should have seen it, those bones were nothing more than grey stone. Then sticky feathers sprouted, a beak like barnacles, two wings tucked against a hollow chest. I could almost make it breathe again, curled under my fingers, unbeating and stiff.

I could tell you the time a friend picked me up in her mother's van. It was a school night. We drove until the wind swallowed us. Must be near the ocean. Blackness and sharp rocks. We left our pants along the chain link fence. Do Not Enter. You can't keep the ocean from us, she chanted, arms high in the air, pupils dilated. We were becoming barnacles, opening and closing, stillness against chaos. Beating and alive. 

Or, I could tell you the time I set a stack of journals on fire in a bedroom that never felt like mine. None of it did, I mean. Not even my hands. I ran down the white hallway to the sink, ashes flying, skin blazing. Water like a God I should have loved more. The scar still returns some days. Don't analyze. Follow with me tonight. Tell me the time you took acid, got onto the wrong bus in a city you can't remember. Tell me you sat next to a girl who turned into a bird, or maybe she was stone too. 

Say nothing after. We could drink
wine and remember everything, 
and forget by morning. Or I could sit stone-faced, 
watch shadows suck back out the windows as if they have wings, fade. 
You could watch TV. 
             Stone and bird.


For St. Catherine of Siena

Truth: I know your secrets.
I see the scars on
your right knuckles matching
mine. The x of teeth and stomach acid. 
The apple falls. It is never digested.

I know how you purge, St.Catherine,
the way
is the only holiness
you can believe in. 

You slip
your hands into your sleeves
and feel like they
can't be yours.
Much too large

for a child's, a nun's.
You cry
a skeletal yearning of
Holy, Holy, Holiness
but only 

the breath
from your ribs
returns to you, 



Aristaeus, I should have read closer.
I wanted to make you my lover
so you would protect me, save me,
not as the newborn
tossed on your daughter's doorstep. Did you love me
differently, like a man loves
a monster contained inside fragility?  Was it you who
pressed honey to my lips to distract me from abandonment?

If we forget our past, if we shed our sexes,
if we lose ourselves in the intoxication
of bees and honey,
if I fly out of a dead carcass like your swarm of bees
            and encircle you—
will you lose yourself to me?

Aristaeus, I can't do it.
I can't slay the beast for the sake of the bees.
I can't kill one to save another.
But I'll give you my body instead—
A womb to buzz out of.
            A body to slip into.


Denise Massingill

As a child, I spent many hours catching and releasing honey bees, drawn to the energy I could feel through them. In adulthood, I have chased ways to closer connect to this source and to share it, as a beekeeper, but also in every life task. I am a magic-seeker, and I hunt it through bees, moon phases, in actively fighting against injustice in the world. As a mother of two young daughters, and a substitute teacher in low-income high schools, I practice the art of mindfulness with both my own children and my students, calling for inner reflection and quietness, cocooned in the beautiful chaos of the urban environment.

Denise Massingill is an Austrian-American writer and substitute teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area. She received her BA in Creative Writing at SF State University, where she was the recipient of the Frances Jaffer 2014 Poetry Prize. Her recent short story “Before the Sun Rose” appears in Gambling the Aisle’s November 2017 online flash fiction, and is featured in their first all-women’s issue.  Her poems “Consent” and “Repent” will appear in the upcoming 2018 issue of Habitat Magazine.

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