Leigh Kirkland The 2River View, 6.2 (Winter 2002)

Reflections in a Polished Shield

A woman is saved from a dragon the knight swears
is dangerous. For his kindness, the knight becomes a saint.
For her politeness, the woman’s reflection distorts
on the curve of aluminum beer cans. The blibbering
television does not stop the tongues
of snakes flickering against her brain.

Because he rescued her, in spite, out of spite,
he says, she grew the leathery wings of dragons,
her skin scaly as vigilant snakes. Don’t tell, he says.
Don’t shed your skin where people might see.

He wants the world chopped in pieces like the serpents
he wants her to fear. If she isn’t invisible, she paralyzes
him with fear of the ground where he stands. He grabs
her elbow in the kitchen, bends
her back over the stove, turns himself into stone.

Outside his windowless walls, nights shine with sparks
of liquid glass. On the precise surfaces of his road a crow
pecks at a squirrel flattened on the double-painted center
line. She has no answer for the things a man needs. The flow
of her body is repulsive. Was it he who lit poisonous
flames to curl in her skull?

What she feels I will feel. We pay homage
through smiles revolting as the leaves of aromatic
plants rotting. Certainly she understands how disgusting
it is that she bleeds. How disgusting she is, the rotting
of aromatic plants.

Men claim that touching us with their vision will turn
a beholder into stone. We can look at them, we cannot touch
them. Touching other women does not turn me to stone.
Maybe I see you as you are. Maybe he is stone.
He named those hard surfaces beautiful.
We do not turn each other into stone.

He gave us the same shape to be buried under
the cold weight of flickering artificial lights.
I don’t remember it that way. I have seen lightning
flashing over a woman’s body, skin moisture turning
to steam, blasting clothes and shoes to leave
her naked before thunder ever strikes.

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2River All is well.