Sarah Kain Gutowski: Chapter VIII: She Removes the Stitches
The fire in the hearth sparked and fumed. The clocks struck
the hour in one long reprimand, their faces closed
to further discussion. They ticked the seconds begrudgingly.
The whole room seemed angry, as if each object mourned
her loss of the little bird, its potential friendly noise
and chaos, its brief disruption of stasis and constant gloom.
Inside her mouth the frog tongue protested too, and pushed
against her teeth and lips as it never had before,
attempting to stretch and unfold beyond her aching jaw.
She gave in. Her will collapsed like the tunnels dug by voles
through her sad, neglected garden, and shadows jumped
all around her, as if they knew her thoughts. She fumbled,
searching between the clocks for the silver-handled knife,
blind and out of breath with fear at her decision.
She found it glinting on the floor, hot from the fire.
It burned her fingertips and palm as she lifted the blade
up to her mouth and nicked the weakest center stitch.
She pulled it slowly, thread through flesh, and her stomach turned and kicked.
The other stitches fell more easily, and soon
her mouth was bare but for the holes the needle had made.
Her bottom lip sank slowly and then her tongue unfurled.
Instead of falling, loose and heavy as it had
before in the goblin’s shop, it uncurled and whipped the air.
The line of clocks along the mantle smashed and hurtled
against each other and then the floor, glass faces shattered.
Each fragment sparkled with the fire’s refracted light.
Her tongue recoiled, the muscle contracting and snapping back inside.
Suddenly she felt the need to be away
from the fire’s heat and searing light, the glittering,
fractured clocks, their mangled arms and splintered faces.
Down the stairs she fled and tripped, almost tumbling.
A need had spread through her bones and skin, an impulse borne
with her unstitched mouth and muscular tongue, the power she felt
from letting her body do what a body will always do
without restraint. Then into the forest’s shadows she reeled,
through trees and patches of filmy moonlight, until she reached the field.
The full moon lit the long grass with a stark gray sheen.
Above those slender stalks a constellation of moths
and lightning bugs hovered, minute stars changing their shape
and story every minute, myth after myth
reborn and retold. The woman watched them, glad to breathe
the sharp, chill air so cold it burned her lungs and nose,
far from the tower and all its trappings, clutter and theft.
Then her tongue shot out. It caught and gathered what it found,
a writhing mass of wings and spindle antennae, into her mouth.
She almost choked when she realized the crackling, folded bodies –
these living things – were bottled now inside her throat.
The powdered fabric of their wings clung to its sides,
adhered, like cut wet grass patterns the sides of a blade
that strikes it down. And still their thin legs whirred until
they shook loose and detached, abandoning one fight
and plunging into another. She mourned their deaths, ashamed.
Yet even as she knelt in the dirt, overcome with guilt,
her mouth unleashed her tongue again. It returned with mites and ticks.
A bat veered through the swath of sky above, and her tongue
extended its sticky length to catch those wings and not
the large white moth the bat pursued. Before she could fight
this weird muscle and its strange new appetite,
her tongue shot back between her teeth with the vermin tucked
inside its fleshy rolls; then tossed it, small as a mouse
and torn from light and sound, into the cavernous space
beyond her mouth. And there for a moment it hung, suspended
by shock and disgust, until her throat convulsed, and the bat descended.
The woman with the frog tongue began to wail,
a sound more fierce than any she’d made for months, or years.
She meant to release a long, loud scream, or something like
the shrill caw from a bird of prey before its kill, or
the fierce, foreboding drone of a locust swarm – yet instead
there came a deep rumbling, a sound that shook her frame.
The call was ugly; like nothing she’d heard from any beast
she’d come upon before. The grass shook. Animals fled.
Exhausted, she slumped across the field to the children’s fort, and slept.
Tags: Contributors 95, Poetry, Poetry 95, sarah kain gutowski