Hemlock & Harmony

Chase Berggrun

Sola dosis facit venenvm­­—attributed to Paracelsus, father of modern toxicology



From a distance the snow

It’s like we married each other’s want

Farewell has a set of unclean teeth

These facts hinged on an overwhelming sense of

It’s like expecting each meal to be poisoned

Nervous, like February, waiting for sun

If I say no will I see you again

If I release my knotted muscles

If I consume everything

Arm around my waist, we walk

Kissing, your chest like a manic wave

Your tongue like lightning on my suprasternal notch

I whisper, this life is a thumbprint on a sunburn

Our tablecloth is soaked with tears but we still have

Behind your green eye a blistering barrage of song

When we are apart I move like a snake beheaded

A blackbird rests on the couch in our home waiting to be fed

I can’t keep myself upright like a lightswitch

A wind running down the neck’s length like a leopard

Sometimes I envy prey

I’m tired of being a man, tired of thorn & sinew, root & arm

I’m a boisterous boy, prone to fracture

I’m an unshaved girl with her hands in the air

I’m a passionless night, a pointless apology

I’m a wolf in the water with my arm in a sling while the moon wets the hour with silver piss

I am roasting my innards

My heart is a cat on a spit

We’re like two aging swans without a lake

Together we break & bend toward the morning, away from

Morning, rough like snakeskin, like wet wax & waking light that wanders over two sets of guilty shoulders

Unsleeping in a long syllable of stillness

We float in an unmanned boat over the muteness of our longest dawn

In this house my body is the body of my mother & only

The body of my father pressing farther into the earth

This is relevant to the way we rise

We’ve thought about dying before, about stormclouds in relation to the way our cold hands tremble

We’re not ready to unseal the enormous envelopes of our bodies

We practice our pageant with weak ambition

Is this practice prayer or palmistry

Is this not proof enough

Is this faith or

Is this feeling familiar

Is this what you imagined I’d do

This was all your idea

You open the wound of your voice to every whispered god

I hide the moment I realized I was truly alone in a tiny wooden box

It’s like coming into a great deal of money without the money

Ontologically this is not insignificant, the empty space

In Livy 8.18 the author wonders if the great many deaths in the year 331 should be attributed to plague or a conspiracy to poison the men of Rome

Venenum is from Venus, after all, & poison has a soft hand, a second set of lips

Livy would prefer to think it was illness that tore them down

Quintilian conflates “adulteress” with “poisoner”

We blame all our plagues on whatever’s easiest

I’ve been letting my blood to draw in the light

When a cloud covers my head I erupt in irritation

On the train my hands like insular spiders finger imaginary frets

In this house my body is the body of someone extraordinary

Outside the trees are shivering white

From a distance the snow seems like a permanent skin

We whisper into cups of stale coffee all the insults we’d like to unleash

It’s like playing tennis without the tennis

Ever since I was a child I’ve loved fog

Oblivion has a sweet taste, so does fear

Poison is a tool of quickening

It makes things urgent, inevitable

One could say that poisoning enables intimacy

Brings one closer to one’s body, forces attention to be paid

Perhaps that was what we needed

The last practical moment we shared together was a mistake

The whole world tasted like peaches, like lip-gloss & glitter

A long embrace, a whiskey-swallow retch

A backward glance, Andromache to Hector, I with the eyes of a widow & full

There were no excuses when the sun came

Even when the bottle doesn’t bust there’s consequence

It’s like the twisted ankle of the morning

The moment your eyes roll up & out into the light opposing another cycle of tides

Everything coalesces into a shallow trench, like decision

Everything falters

An argument after its hour

That isn’t what I meant, you interrupted

You wander out of the hallway pearl-eyed &

I wonder about tomorrow

Flower of flower, wind & leaf, barebud & bold blue flower bending

Wanting you well-watered, full of sun

Don’t watch me I am proving something

I’m a cynic with a dog’s tongue inside me

An emerald ring in my hand is a grenade

I’m reminded my voice is not the smack of thunder, despite

Coupling under warm water we wonder whether we have been digested

We want to call it love without crossing our fingers

If you’ve never eaten while crying you don’t know what life tastes like

I said my hand’s on my heart for you, I’ve saved the big piece for last, we’ll share, we’ll eat together, we’ll have enough

From a distance the snow looks manageable

We’d like to think the coming storm will fade

The next few days will test our firm resolve         

Somewhere inside us our ghost ships are setting sail

Nothing tangible on the horizon to hold on to

No one to give a final heave or benediction

Each wave will threaten the entire enterprise

Despite the morning’s offer, extended at heart-height

The crown of the sun will never grace my forehead

& we won’t live to see the melt in March