The question was authenticity: silver Indian
bracelet, turquoise beads. You said, “Sterling,
925.” I said, “Nickel, cannot find the stamp,”
and we left the pawnshop’s dim arcade, your face
transparent before watches in the window’s glass.
On Queen’s West: leather jackets in a store called
“Skin and Bone,” jeweled phoenixes that rose
straight from my high school feathered roach-clip
days. Parallel wall mirrors sent soap-stone beavers
and raw-hide drums off in rows.
You wanted one small drop of blue for your
right ear. The cost: splitting a pair. An infant
squawked and sucked a fist in the back room,
his mother stitching moose-skin, surrounded
by fur. You said: “My old lover would like this,
she collected pelts.” I looked at the tied
feet and noses—bear, bobcat, minx,
deer, cow. Twenty skunk-tails in a barrel.
I thought of zooaphilia: woman who married
a bear, a frog, a swan, who fed a cobra milk
and then fell in love. Or the man who married
a horse, a goat, a bird he held to his chest
and carried everywhere. I thought of each pelt
as you, your skin. Remembered the man
who stoned two dogs to death and hung them
in a tree. His only cure: to marry the dog’s
sister in an elaborate ceremony, a feast
for a thousand guests. I thought about
the difference, a dog in a white dress.
That night you worried about my carrying on—
crying, raccoon eyes, my leaps between our hotel beds then
catatonia, unable to sleep in that tower of 500 rooms,
all with the same portrait above the bed—a naked
beauty cavorting against a furred beast; he a psychedelic
square of hair, she, S-shaped, pale, sleek. I prayed
our marriage would ward off bad omens, dreamt
of cages, stroked your hair. I couldn’t tell whose skin
was whose. I dreamed I was your animal. Let me
be your animal. But then I woke and found our bodies
hairless in the mollusk-colored room.
Sarah Messer has received fellowships and grants from the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, the NEA, and the Mellon Foundation. In 2008-2009 she was a fellow in poetry at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study (Bunting) at Harvard. She is the author of a hybrid history/memoir, Red House (Viking), and a poetry book, Bandit Letters (New Issues). Her work has appeared in The Paris Review, The Kenyon Review, Gulf Coast, and Ploughshares, among others. She teaches at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, and runs One Pause Poetry, a reading series in Ann Arbor, Michigan.