Sheila-Na-Gig online


David B. Prather

David B. Prather’s first collection, We Were Birds, was published by Main Street Rag Publishing.  His work has appeared in several print and online publications, including Prairie Schooner, Poet Lore, The Literary Review, Seneca Review, Grey Sparrow Journal, and many others, as well as previously in Sheila-Na-Gig online.  He studied acting at the National Shakespeare Conservatory in New York, and he studied writing at Warren Wilson College.  He lives in Parkersburg, WV.

Journal Entry: Cutting My Hair

Five minutes, ten tops,
electric shears trim over my ears, different guides
for different lengths,
always careful to get the angle that suits my face,
and I’m done.
I used to pay for the convenience, never sure how
to describe what I want.
It’s been this way all my life. The high school
guidance counselor gave up
on me, called me a daydreamer with too many
lofty goals—rock star,
movie actor, great American novelist. Instead,
I got parking lot
attendant, bank courier, English professor, poet.
Tonight, I add barber
to the list. I rinse my hair in the shower to get rid
of the strays, streetlights
gone cubist through the patterned window. I wish
I could have been
an artist like my great grandmother who loved
painting Native American
portraits. But her best was an acrylic of an old
sycamore, bone white
with golden leaves, wings at the end of every
branch. It looks ready
to fly, ready to find a new life near some other
wayward river. I think
of it as a portrait of me, an abstraction only
I can see. I can
hardly believe all the threads of hair, the smallest
cuts I cast off,
no longer part of me, my own identity in question
again. Funny how
I said own, as though I know what is mine. I keep
pictures of me
hidden away, such a Dorian Gray thing to do.
But they are images
of the past, not who I am today. I’ve heard
the only constant
is change. And that may be. There’s a moth
on the window,
I swear, like nothing I’ve ever seen.

Journal Entry: What Keeps Me Up at Night

There is no recipe, no cutouts or clippings
my grandmother left in a kitchen drawer,
the occasional hand-written list of items

and directions, her script precise and clear.
It’s midnight, and I hunger for her vegetable
soup—carrots, potatoes, celery. Cabbage

brings it all together. Black pepper
makes it warm. Tomato juice I put up
last year, the heirlooms of my garden,

leaves residue up the sides of the stewpot.
a few pats of butter mellow as root, leaf,
legume, and kernel soften in the simmer.

I love the feel of a knife in my hand as I slice
and chop, the tap of the blade against
the cutting board. There’s no meat in the mix,

in honor of my vegetarian grandmother
who grew up on a farm where animals were
slaughtered, the brutality that changed her.

Sometimes, when I can’t sleep, I light
the burners and cook my childhood
memories. I remember a dog barking,

a porch light, a bobcat at the edge of the yard
where forest was a hodgepodge of shadow
and sycamore and moldering leaves.

I remember being told to stay inside.
I think I sat at the kitchen window all night
to see if some other wild creature might

stalk me. I had a bowl of soup to lean over,
steam rising around my face. Even now,
I look out my own window as all this

comes to a boil. Nothing moves near.
Not even a moth to batter itself
upon glass panes. To try to become

one with the light I leave on throughout
the night. I don’t know why I do this.
Maybe the bobcat was just a symbol.

Maybe I’m remembering it all wrong.
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