Stage Two/Follow-Up/All Love Stories are Death Stories


Stage Two 

You are invasive, like water through stone cracking grey
shimmers inside, like jelly fish in the Pacific swimming,
stuck to legs and arms, stinging skin in the salty brine.
Dark murmuration, wall of bones and feathers and small
bodies swooping through the sky, blotting out light and time.
Embryo soft mollusk tissue, thin membrane of life digging
for more life. How do you end up becoming part of me?
How did you find just the right cells and fat to live in,
to fuse with? It was you I felt that day, driving to work,
wondering about the thickness underneath my right arm pit,
feeling the taut skin raised above the nipple. It seems you
were always meant to be the story of my 40s. You ate up
my entire breast like a hungry god, like the Cyclops craves
heads and men. Yet I always think of you as frail, as fragile,
like a sliver of moon before the sky swallows it whole.
A universe in five centimeters seething for more.


And the risks I asked of a pill
that cuts out the hunger lurking

grey goblin cemented to inside walls
of my stomach, the one you seem

invested in shrinking, in medicating
small, emptying like riverbeds in desert

heat. You said it was better to live
with ravaging cravings, covetous pangs

instead of feeding this body, my organs
whole. You were wearing all white

boots with a stripe of red along
the seams when you said fat

is a killer, think about that. Heart
attacks are dangerous to you right

now. These pills, they are safe
in case you want more than

fat. Obesity is the word you
actually used that Friday when

I forced myself into your office
wishing I’d taken off my boots

when the nurse weighed me,
hoping half a pound less would

show you I am more than
a patient who needs to

learn how to starve herself.

All Love Stories are Death Stories
for Ricardo

When the world is on fire, you tell me stories of love,
your words dispel the shadows. They offer up the light.
When my mouth is full of nails, when I lie in the dark

you sing to my cracking insides, my blue blue heart, shove
away my pulsing sorrows, erase their lasting, biting blight.
When the world is on fire, you tell me stories of love

of Odysseus, his years of wild suffering, of bitter luck, of
how he stabbed the Cyclops’ eye, tricked him out of sight.
When my mouth is full of nails, when I lie in the dark

you whisper a tale of wandering, of lost love, of Zeus above
terrorizing men with gales, with monsters and his lightning might.
When the world is on fire, you tell me stories of love

whisper how Penelope weaved her shroud, hid her self—a dove
who secretly prayed for her beloved in the darkness of the night.
When my mouth is full of nails, when I lie in the dark

you feed me words and honey, keep away the wicked flood,
my madness, my demons, my sorrows bursting into flight.
Because, when the world is on fire, you tell me stories of love
even when my mouth is full of nails, even in the dark.

M. Soledad Caballero is professor of English at Allegheny College. Her scholarly work focuses on British romanticism, travel writing, post-colonial literatures, WGSS, and interdisciplinary. She is a 2017 CantoMundo fellow, has been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes, has been a finalist for the Missouri Review’s Jeffry E. Smith poetry prize, the Mississippi Review’s annual editor’s prize, and the Lucille Medwick Memorial Award. Her poem “Myths We Tell” won the 2019 Joy Harjo poetry prize for Cutthroat: a Journal of the Arts. Her poems have appeared in the Missouri Review, the Mississippi Review, the Iron Horse Literary Review, Memorius, the Crab Orchard Review, Anomaly, and other venues. Her book, Birds of Prey, won the 2019 Benjamin Saltman Poetry Award and will be published by Red Hen Press.