The Gray Owl
Aberration, this owl, gray as a Scottish sky.
A Dark Wood Owl, the Spectral Owl,
twin sister, she hunts, like you, at dusk. Her keen
ears can hear prey stirring underneath
the snow, like your ears can hear the laughter
of your target at the bar sipping an icy drink.
She soars on silent wings, a gray ghost
dropping from a bombardier’s sights. Your wings
are a swishing dress, territorial call clicking heels,
soft voice like music slowly stirred. Her claim of space a
confident whooo-ooo-ooo-ooo in the boreal forest.
If the prey is small, swallowed whole. Larger
prey torn to pieces by talons sharp as the
laminate adorning your fingers.
She will take the kill to her nest, as will you.
Tonight, both will eat.
No rain can wash me clean. Water refuses any
baptism. It is the race so cursed by
imagination carrying us all along like bits
of wood caught in forever swirling eddies.
The dark, a murky sludge filled stream is the
challenge, one that has ridden us since
stories were sung around campfires heralding
the battle of light and dark the sun faced
each day as it sank into the underworld.
This fancy is the burden weighing down
our minds. We find it as scrys: in pots of
gold, empty grails, bars and homes,
cathedrals and bordellos, forest and matted
garden. No matter where we walk, the
underworld follows, laughing like some
vampiric clown after it swallowed the sun.
No answer heralds the dawn. No angel
comes with a protective sword. Only
monstrous myth sustains, a top hat filled
with pyrite. These stories we have narrated,
these choraled songs, women weeping by
the river—call of Calvary’s hill, or in
another time, Orpheus’ lyre—bring us respite
from an uncertain dawn.
The first tattoo was a death head stitched
into my left ass cheek after I had sex
in a graveyard.
Number two came after a binge a few years
later: Patsy Cline on my right forearm so I
could remember “Crazy,”
the lover who taught me about
needles and spoons, night that was more
than darkness, and later hate.
I mark myself so that I may forget—more
importantly remember when I need to know
what the crunch of broken glass in an alley
meant. Layer by layer over the years like
the phases of the moon, being inked became
graduation rituals to a new me
that I had to remember. The clichéd yin and yang
karmas the back of my neck, an Ouroboros,
slithered red, yellow, black, rings my navel
as I eternally return to my own self-creation,
eating myself on a banquet table of
My entire body now a tapestry of transitions,
color like a blazing autumn forest, my roots
drink deep the remembering of my markings.
But in marking, I am marked: strangers approach
like family and make comments about how beautiful,
how weird, how ugly my body is.
I realize that we all have been marked from the beginning,
in the garden, the inquisitor’s chamber, marriage bed—
marked by our sex, our desires, our patented roles.
These tattoos mere totems covering soft flesh like
a cherub’s husk, the others staring like a Cyclops,
we all walk within marked days.
Ralph Monday is an Associate Professor of English at Roane State Community College in Harriman, TN., where he teaches composition, literature, and creative writing courses. In fall 2013 he had poems published in The New Plains Review, New Liberties Review, Fiction Week Literary Review, and was represented as the featured poet with 12 poems in the December issue of Poetry Repairs. In winter 2014 he had poems published in Dead Snakes. Summer 2014 had a poem in Contemporary Poetry: An Anthology of Best Present Day Poems. His work has appeared in publications such as The Phoenix, Bitter Creek Review, Full of Crow, Impressions, Kookamonga Square, Deep Waters, Jacket Magazine, The New Plains Review, New Liberties Review, cc&d, Crack the Spine, The Camel Saloon, Dead Snakes, Jellyfish Whispers, Pyrokinection, Red River Review, Burningword and Poetry Repairs. Featured Poet of the week May, 2014 Poetry Super Highway. Forthcoming: Poems in Blood Moon Rising. Crack the Spine best of anthology and Down in the Dirt Magazine. His poetry has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and Houghton Mifflin’s “Best of” Anthologies, as well as other awards. A chapbook, All American Girl and Other Poems, was published in July 2014.