Lockjaw by Lucas Dean Clark (he, him)

I. Sons of Bitterness

I fell from the wind
I landed at the boat docks

I was tangled in a fishnet
To get out I learned to chew
It broke my teeth

There was a lake without a moon

I called Kuyken out of the woods
He dwelled in the song of the cricket
Chewed sunflower seeds in his mouth
Spat them into the night sky
Watched them brighten into stars

I called Parker from the reed grass
He heard the shadow leaking from tree roots
Poured gasoline on a bee hive
Caught his foot on fire

I called Skin And Bones up from the lake
Catfish were swimming with him
Water was breathing him in and out

I was the one who stepped on a fishhook
The voice that cried out was me

I wanted a moon to darken on me
The stars were far from my rescue

I chucked stones into the lake
And there is nothing that would bring them back

II. A Piano in the Woods

A rat snake comes out of the thornbush
It wraps itself around my arm
It squeezes me

Kuyken speaks to it
As he would a sweetheart
He says let go my dirt angel

My hand is turning blue

I run down into the lake
I must drown this rat snake
Swimming to the deepest basins
Searching in the dark for them stones I chucked
I cannot find them
I hear that rat snake hissing through the water
Feel its fangs in my wrist
And I wait till it dies squeezing on my arm
Like a heartbeat

I look up from the bottom of the lake
I can see through this dark

I can see Parker putting fire in the lanterns
There is gasoline on his lips

I can see mosquito hawks flying in the air
Their wings shave the face of the water
It is more beautiful than love

I can see radio towers with red lights blinking on the hilltops

I can see cattails and bulrush and aster on the shoreline
My heartbeat making ripples in the water
The water strider bugs riding the ripples
The catfish finning away from me

When I break through the surface of the lake
A boat comes and picks me up

It is an old man steering the wheel
He is smoking a big cigar
His friends call him Jimmy-O
And I call him my friend

The boat creeps through the water
Jimmy-O is patient as a garden spider
He cleans under his fingernails with a knife
He says when you’re as old as me
All you want to do is stare at the water

He drives the boat to the lakeshore
Chucks the anchor over the starboard
Opens his tacklebox
Cracks a beer
Cuts up the last of his hot dogs for catfish bait
What’s the deal I say

He points to the dark land
Where there are trees for miles
He says listen

Turning my ear
I can hear a piano in the woods
Something like an old church hymn
It reminds me of door hinges opening real slow
It is thick and heavy in the wind
I get on my knees crossing my heart
It is invisible yet I can touch it
It rusts in the air

He says that’s my wife

He says she drug that damn piano into the woods
And she never came back

Well I leave him too
I climb off the boat
Stomping through the shallow water
Hoofing it to the woods
I carry a ladybug on my shoulder
Swaying from the creeper vines over the creek
Drinking from a mud puddle till it is dry
Saying I love you to a crawdad under a rock
I have a dead rat snake hanging on my arm
I reach my hand into a birdhouse but it is empty
I hold a grasshopper between my fingers
Wishing I was small too
I hear a tree fall and it is like thunder
In dreams I’ve been in the woods just like this
Grabbing fireflies and smearing their blood on my face
Walking over bee hives that are on fire
I steal a feather from a sleeping hawk
I dig myself a grave beneath a willow tree
Karate chopping the thick roots with my bare hands
I want to be a tombstone without a name on it
I climb over an electric fence
There is lightning in my hands
I am chased by black haired dogs
Into the middle of a thornbush
I find the eggs of a rat snake and break them
I listen to a goose honking in the sky
All by itself looking for its friends
In this eternal night
I watch a seed grow into a tree
I weep into a mud puddle
The voice that cries out is me
I know my body will never be anything more than wet dirt
I smell the trees saying goodnight
I piss on a brown moth I mistook for dead leaves
I am out here wandering like a restless spirit
Heading towards the piano song but it never gets any closer
I am aimless
Chewing the rust off a water spicket
Kissing the face of a barn owl
Listening to my dreams and hearing oceans
I have scabs down my knuckles
I sprinkle breadcrumbs on the ground I walk
I am living from the voice of one bird to the next
I cannot find Jimmy-O’s wife
I can live in the wet dead trees when I die
I can snap the fallen oak branches over my knee
I can drink the silence dripping from their leaves
I think I can see a moon
But it is a man at the edge of the woods

It is Skin And Bones hurrying away
Running down to the water
Crouching on the lakeshore
Speaking to his own reflection in a different tongue
His words can move the water
He can ride the water on his stomach like a canoe if he wants to
He hates being dry

He dives into the lake

And the catfish are shallowing the shadow around him
And the catfish leap into his hands
And the catfish cut him with their sharp spines
And then Skin And Bones is biting the catfish
And they are splashing

There is blood in the water

I holler for Skin And Bones to come back
I whistle with a blade of grass
I clap my hands
I shake the trees back and forth
I recite a sonnet into a groundhog’s hole and it is like I am
In school again with the teacher behind a big desk
Except now it is a groundhog backed up against the wall
Of its own tunnels afraid of dying but it is still listening to my voice
I stomp my feet on the ground
I kick up the stones and dirt
I crack my knuckle bones
I scream the words of the Lord’s Prayer
I slap my hands on my thigh
I howl with the wolves
But there is no moon

That is all the noise I can make

Then Kuyken comes out of the woods
He quiets me
He calls me his friend
He drinks moonshine from a jar
And passes it to me
It tastes like my mouth is a razorblade cut

Come with me he says
There are crickets on the earth
I would like to hear tonight

III. Kuyken Tells a Miracle

Listen to me says Kuyken I was the one
who spat stars into the night sky I was here
before the trees were born There was a man
who rode a horse across the lake I watched him
do it His name was Broken Spine He worked
in the oil fields and drilled into the earth all day
He had a horse that could trot on top of the water
He called it his Spirit Horse and they used to live
on the lakeshore together Listen to me says Kuyken
That Spirit Horse slept on the lake like a swan
When Broken Spine came home from the oil fields
He would walk that horse to the cistern and let it
drink from his own palms I can see it in my dreams
In my dreams I am a stone on the bottom of the lake
And I can see it all passing over me through the dark
There were men on the land who marveled at the Spirit Horse
They chased after that horse in their sailboats
and threw fishnets over it and fed it
rotten apples and struck its nose with wooden spoons
and forced wine down its throat
These were men who wished to row the lake like an oar
These were men who dreamed
of tiptoeing down waterfalls These were men
who didn’t know holiness but they wanted it Listen
to me says Kuyken I am trying to tell you
how it happened One night Broken Spine heard
through the vine what the men did to that horse
He decided to curse them in their sleep
He wiped their foreheads in swamp mud
stole their teeth and dropped worms into their ears
He unburied their fathers from the graveyards
and piled the corpses on a raft
He spoke in a fiery tongue His words sparked
the raft into fire and burned the fathers
of the men on the lake That was
the type of shit he did That night
the cursed men dreamed of the oil fields
catching fire They dreamed of night and fire
and oil spreading They dreamed of scooping
oil out of the earth with coffee mugs and drinking it
turning their stomachs into lakes of licking fire
The next day the cursed men woke bleeding
from the eyes They could hardly see
the graveyards through their own blood
They didn’t need any wisemen to interpret the dream
They tore their clothes and shouted like a hurt animal
in a sharp trap Their words were slurred
because they had no teeth They couldn’t
wash the swamp mud off their faces
They pulled worms from their ears and the worms were full
of oil The smoke of their burning fathers
covered the land The moon disappeared from the night sky
Broken Spine and that Spirit Horse left for the oceans
And they never came back Listen to me says
Kuyken I was born from cursed men
They were my fathers They were bitter
in their lives They ate catfish and shadow
all their days It was the dark nights
they hated most They dreamed of splinters
in their palms They chucked stones
into the lake They cut each other with knives
They stood outside in a cold rain and bled
They forgot to tell me their names
I called them my friends I buried them in the lake
under the stones
There was a man who rode a horse across the lake
I watched him do it
I can see my fathers sleeping on the lake bottom in my dreams
I can see their eyes bleeding oil in death
I must leave this place I must walk
into the song of the cricket I am
going to leave my body and become the cricket song
Listen to me

IV. The Catfish Derby

I water the dirt with my tears

I run to the boat docks and drink cheap beer
I step on a fishhook
It goes right through my callus
Like you wouldn’t believe it

From now on I spend the summer dreaming of lockjaw

I tear the fishhook out of my foot
Stab a hotdog on it
Cast it out into the lake

There are boats chopping across the water
I dream of my teeth caving in
I can almost see the stars
I breathe in like they taught me in therapy
And broken mosquito hawk wings fill my nose

There is a lake without a moon

I hear Parker coming through the reed grass
Carrying midnight honey away from the bee hives
His skin dowsed in gasoline

I lick the honey off his palms
Eat the blowfly that crawls from his mouth
Stab the bottom of his feet with fishhooks
My throat is an open grave
I light a matchstick then throw it on him
Watching him burn
The flames clawing on his skin
But he isn’t hurt

I stand by his side
Calling him my friend
He pulls a Latin Bible out of his back pocket
Misinterpreting the words and reading them loud
He says I am the fire that never goes out

The pages are crumbling in his hands
I can see deeper in the dark by his light
I can see fishermen ripping catfish out of the water on the shorelines

I throw sticks on Parker
I blow on his flames
I watch him cut open his stomach with a knife
He is explaining to me how his insides work
How his kidneys attach to his bladder
How his tendons and muscles and bones are all connected
How he is cooked all the way through like a ribeye
Yet the flames do not consume him

His life is a secret I now understand

The rat snakes come out from the thornbush
They wrap themselves around Parker and burn
Turning to heaps of ash at his feet
I just sweep them into the lake with a corn broom

I have a dead rat snake hanging on my arm

And there is much darkness in the land
And the shadow leaks from tree roots
And Parker says he must go away
So I tell him my farewells
I embrace him
And my chest becomes a field of fire

He leaves a trail of light behind him
The ground burns beneath his feet
Scorching the cattails and bulrush and aster
He cooks the fishermen’s’ catfish in his hands
They call Parker a miracle
They tell me miracles don’t come back

I keep on drinking cheap beer
I want a moon to darken on me

I listen to the heartbeats of mosquito hawks in the wind
I fill my pockets with cockroaches
I am in thoughts from visions of the night
Changing my mouth into a honey trap
Breaking my fingers and my hands become bird nests
Dropping a stick on the ground and it turns into a rat snake
I know loving someone means you return to them
I growl at the robin that wants to steal my hair
I can crack open my heart
Steal the sap from its insides
I have dark trees for lungs
Underground rivers for veins
I am fishing at the boat docks
I don’t even notice the catfish tugging at the end of my line

Skin And Bones is coming up from the lake
And he is reeling it in for me

V. After Midnight

I had a dead catfish in my hands
Like some awful souvenir

Skin And Bones found his guitar floating on the lake
The strings were snapped
The wood was warped
But when he strummed it it was warm
It was the day’s last sunbeams in that golden hour

I could see Jimmy-O driving his boat
He waved me down

He pulled up to the boat docks
Picked me up
Drove us to the middle of the lake
Then he leaned over the stern
Then he cut the warts out of his foot with a knife
There was blood in the water

I grabbed the knife by the blade
Spilling my own blood
I took it out of his hands
I swallowed it
It cut my throat on the way down
It was sharp inside my stomach

I gargled my own blood and spat into the lake
I said how do you like that

Jimmy-O was staring at me
I could see the lake without a moon in his eyes

He threw a fishnet over me
He kicked me
He broke my jaw
He burnt me with a big cigar
He said you must be in touch with the devil
He stuffed the dead catfish in my mouth
He bent my teeth backwards
He poured whiskey and beer over my head
He climbed into the cockpit and gave a sermon
He rubbed salt into my eyes
He spread lipstick on my wrists
He kissed me
He hung me with fishhooks in my armpits over the bow
He said don’t ever leave me again

But I was drunk and crazy
My neck was draped in thunder

I could walk on the wind rushing under my feet
I could ride a gust of wind like a magic carpet
My words could turn the wind
I said raise me
I was risen

Lucas Dean Clark is from a rural farming community in Northeast Ohio. He writes about his dreams often and has a reoccurring nightmare where he is chased by black-haired dogs. He also walks in the woods like a ghost.