As a Bitch Paces Round Her Tender Whelps, So Growls [My] Heart

Shena McAuliffe


Our possible love is like the harvest season in a small western city, where people grow produce in their yards.  And in this city, I don't have a yard.  I live in a second floor apartment, with only a box of flowers on the sill. Sometimes I steal from other people's gardens.

(The gleaning tally: 3 peaches, one cluster of very sweet grapes, one Italian plum that tasted like omg-the-most-perfect-sun-sugar-evah (must go back to that tree today!), two strawberries, one cherry tomato, and a little bag full of goodies from Esther's garden—these given freely.)

And so it is with our possible love: covert and delicious, but never mine. It never really belongs to me.

Yours in innocent thievery,




I would get a tattoo if tattoos had the power of metaphor. The way a metaphor results in metamorphosis: the moment it is spoken, the girl that laughs like a hyena becomes a hyena, running across the Sahara, loping and hysterical. I would ask an artist to drive those tiny inkstains into my skin. A seahorse on each ankle would be my wing-fins, my talaria, my swift golden sandals.  I would be an aquatic Mercury—triumphant messenger—but swimming like a pufferfish in the Super Mario Brothers water levels. Adrift in carnival music, blowing bubbles.

As of yet un-inked,



Fluid Dram,

(I ask you: be mine. But while you are thinking about it, listen.)

The Halloween costume brainstorm is upon me.  It is my favorite part of the holiday. Oh!—the tumult of ideas, the tempest, the options for barroom banter. I'd go out drinking every night for this: the possible metamorphoses!  I favor a kinetic costume, engineered or interactive, although last year my detonating device failed and I was forced to be a permanently detonated mushroom cloud for lack of engineering skill. (I built a cloud of Mylar balloons, turned inside out. They were meant to inflate on demand, at the prompting of a CO2 cartridge and a bike pump, but the balloons were not sealed well enough and the cartridges were too small.)

The first round of ideas includes a collage of the Odyssey (rosy fingers, a sheep skin on my back, a fast black ship jutting from my heart, a golden tapestry hanging from a loom, finger puppets…). Or a forest fire (tiny green-leafed trees like a pelt.  The pull of some lever and they'll lie down, silk flames will flutter, and the blackened trees will stand. Something like a pop-up book. Like a dog with hackles.). Or Pinocchio with a growable nose would be fun—a nose that ratchets on a crank. I may have convinced a friend she should be not a cloud, but a storm cloud with a rain option (ribbons and glitter?) and a sun option, and a bolt of lighting that ejects from her cloud.  But she and I also considered going as a pot roast (her) and baked Alaska (me. "Flammable," of course), which quickly led to one of us being an entire meal on a plate (add asparagus and roasted potatoes), and that led to the TV dinner with glued-on kernels of corn. What will you be?

In keeping with my own predictable patterns, Sugarplum, let me compare myself to a mushroom cloud. Or rather, to a person dressed as a mushroom cloud. I was my own metaphor: a precious mess of cheap glitter that sticks to the booze soaked floor. A performance of something deadly, but, truly, a naked being—pink-skinned me. Freckled and wrinkled and aging, but wearing frayed silver and cotton and taped-together Mylar.  Me, pretending to be the embodiment of glamorous, whimsical, invisible, scientifically-miraculous, deadly poison.

Yours 'til my cells run amok,



Mi Pobre Hormiguita,

When we ate the raspberries in meditation group I, too, thought of sex, but unlike Adam, who was sitting next to me, his stomach growling, I did not mention it during the debriefing (debriefing is not a word we would use in meditation group, it being far too martial for such a context. I think our leader calls it "The checking in."  Or does he avoid naming it? He only asks about our experience with the raspberry.) So Adam said he thought of sex, the only one bold enough to say so.

So sex, when it is going well, is a mindful act. The way we focus on each sensation as it happens. The way we notice even the tiniest details—especially those tiny details. The scar above your lip.  The difference between the texture of the skin on your stomach and that on the inside of your elbow. The way, when we first made love, before we got around to the sex part, you narrated everything as it happened: I am going to kiss the small of your back. Now, I am going to kiss you right here, on the back of your knee. This spot, here, between your fingers, is a very special part of your body. How your narration was like a guided meditation, though at the time I'd never done one.

Six raspberries in a white napkin on my lap. Look at the raspberry, said the meditation leader. Study the shape of it. Observe the varying colors. The raspberry had small hairs and a hollow center.  One of the six raspberries on my white napkin (now stained with raspberry juice) was smushed. Each berry was in a different stage of ripeness. Pick up one berry between your fingers…Feel the shape of it…Let the raspberry rest in your palm…Consider its weight…Smell the raspberry. (The raspberry, under my nose, smelled something like paint.) Put the raspberry in your mouth and feel it on your tongue…Eat the raspberry. I pushed the little fruit around, tasting it with my different tastebuds, thinking that each zone of my tongue could taste a different flavor—sweetness at the tip, sour on the sides. (I learned later that this isn't true. Our tongues are more of a wildflower garden, the different flavor receptors scattered almost evenly. The average human tongue has 2000-8000 tastebuds—a tremendous range. I hope, of course, that I have a number in the upper range—say 6500. 8000 may be too many, leaving one overwhelmed and with an aversion to flavors too intense. A childish supertaster.)

The seeds of a raspberry are bitter relief. I swallowed the raspberry. I felt it slide down my esophagus. So small and macerated, it traveled further into my body.




Cowlicked One,

Here's the plan: I will divide the canvas into calendar segments. 30 days in five rows of 6. 30 boxes in a grid. And each day I will chew my food, mash it to a paste between my teeth, my tongue, the roof of my mouth. I will not swallow that first bite but let it fall—nay—spit it onto the canvas.  I will press it with my tongue to its corresponding box. A good solid lick.

Box one is stained with raspberry. Box two with kale. Box three with olives—oily. Box four: chickpeas with cilantro and onion and lime. The pastes will harden. Some of them may grow a fur of mold. We will see what happens. I will label them in a Twombly script with the type of food and the date. In pencil.

My last love was like this. Dare I say all love is so? Like food, the first bite so delicious, and we devour it, and soon we no longer taste the flavors, our palate becoming so accustomed. And even the most perfect balance of flavors rots if left on the counter, or stored in the back of the fridge.  Day after day, the nutrients go rancid. But then they become texture. They become color.


The Macerator


Barefoot One,

In summer, the romance of the scholarly life falls away, stripped like finish from wood, and what remains is the bare and splintered and aged plank that might snag my finger, or the bottom of my sock, or might be used like a pumice to smooth the callus on the side of my pinky toe. Once, the scholarly life glimmered like sunshine through leaves in the fall, the leaves not yet turned yellow, but now I sit at my desk writing or reading, and I am not happy in the way that I thought this life of scholarship would make me happy.  It no longer glimmers like that. I do not, any longer, feel connected (like a potato, like one aspen shoot to its grove) to all the scholars that came before me.  All those who also lived "a life of the mind," at their typewriters, surrounded by stacks of books and papers filled with scribbled thoughts.  They drank coffee all night. But in summer I see that it is just me, with my acne and my thinning hair and age-spotted hands, and the unswept floor and the garbage stinking in the kitchen because last night I ate chicken and threw the Styrofoam package and the plastic wrap in the trash can, and I haven't yet bothered to take out the trash. Just me, alone here and growing older— no matter, no matter—and the library books are overdue.

Yours when the snow falls,



Summer Fruit,

Sundrunk, like the bee drowsy from feeding on the pear that fell to the grass, so am I in your presence. But September is blurring into October and the pear is mashed into the grass, all pulpy and fermenting, and its golden-brown skin is withering in honey-mush, half in shadow, under the tree whose branches rise like a candelabra. To the leaves cling spiderwebs, only visible when the light hits them.  Tender strands that stitch the pear branches to the sky.

In bloom and in rot,



My Dear Festering Splinter.

The thing is, every metaphor falls apart when you look at it closely enough. The laughing girl is much less like a hyena than she is like a hyena. Beginning with her laugh, the whole reason for the comparison: it is more controlled and lower and less barking than that of those crazed dogs. She wears high heels every day. She has no desire to set foot on the African plain. No analogy ever holds for long. The two things being always two things, with different names, different qualities.

You and I? We are not like skin cells, growing next to each other on one body in a possibly malignant mole. We do not pass fluids between our porous cell walls, osmotically.  We do not nestle and exchange, nor divide spontaneously and systematically, cloning ourselves. 

We are not two homes in a rowhouse, sharing a wall, allowing the scent of curry to pass between us. If you are torn down, and our shared wall is suddenly exposed (my outer wall was your inner wall.  The books are still on the shelf, along with a sugar bowl and an alarm clock.  The place where the stairs once climbed is now a stencil of stairs). No, we are not like that.  We are not a rowhouse. We are not a gap-toothed city. We are not a mouth, not teeth, nor, if you choose to leave me, are you a missing tooth.

Yours truly,

A Single Family Home