Dec 7, 2010

Comforting Philomela

Written by Joanna Pearson

Read by Keith Leonard

After raping Philomela, Tereus “seized her tongue
with tongs and, with his brutal sword, cut it away.”
— Ovid

I kiss her, and her hands flit up like toys,
like white doves into the air. Light falls
across her bony shoulder, forming a false
bandolier. She gently mouths no-noise,

twists cracked lips until vibrations thrum
within the hollow of her throat. Silence
breaks — she keens, a human theremin.
I pull her close, pausing to glance

at every plum-dark bruise, the stump of tongue,
her emptied velvet mouth. She stares at me.
I touch her neck where words must be
shuttered within. Climbing each rung

of ribs, my fingers seem to understand
what she wants and is. But she reaches for a pen,
shaking her head, and grabs my hand,
writes, “Nightingale.” In the windowpane,

a bird sights its reflection, strikes,
dizzying itself; hops back to revise
its angle, strike again. Her wet eyes
flicker brownly, then overfill, streaks

of mascara blackening each cheek.
We sit listening to the sound of a small
body battering glass, its thwarted music. Speak
to me
, I plead. She shivers as we fall

together on the bed yet holds me like a child,
stroking my hair, rubbing my brow. I whisper
sweet gibberish to her wounds, kiss her
like she’s a creature broken and made mild,

until she flies from me, a feathered thing,
and I’m left clutching scraps of dawn, of nothing.