Hunger Strike — Alice Paul in Occoquan Workhouse

Cords binding my wrists loosen. Blood returns to my hands. Water runs
——–behind walls and in the waste trench the liquid
noise, the only wind, sour and stringent.

From outside the rusted grate covering the latrine’s small mouth, I hear
——–the hymns of rats.

Last fed through a tube forced through a nostril into my throat,
——–the only taste,
bile against tongue.

When it is over the tube comes free, slick with blood.

——-It shines.

The clean secret light in the blood we see when we close
——-our eyes.

Let them close.

Let the light in the blood pulse through eyelids, arc across curved dark
———with starlight’s adamantine flash,

the fevered blue brilliance of Mars, low in a sky after snow,
——–luminous
with melting tracks of animals, hunting each other.

A vixen spills sheer violet viscera of a young hare on blue-
——-white field.

Her kits shred the carcass.

Ice shards spark the fur’s dying evanescence.

Moonlight strokes a river’s skin, still and quiet, until the angle of penetration is sufficient to filter
——-the violence of the crucible to the surface’s
frenzy of brooktrout, walleye, and muskellunge feeding.

Light in the blood my fingers wipe across my blouse of unwashed muslin.

With each forced feeding more blood inks the stone cell floors.

Blood in remnant milk I have seen on tubercular infant lips sucking at their mother’s breasts in
——the cells’ weak light.

Drawn by hunger through the jail’s smashed window, not shattered to let in air, vestal ghosts
——tongue brown streaks from the shards.

Through the glass’s gape, Emily Wilding Davidson comes,
——the wrap of her face ribboning,

skull split, blazed like the King’s horse, Anmer, who crushed her to ground on Derby Day.

Her spiny teeth clot with bloodroot, the coffin’s taupe splinters. Flesh
——trails her bones,
irises in windstorm of crimson peonies.

Petals strike the river’s sheen like rain, crimson as the unspilled blood of the Churchville suicide,
——Eleanore Ratigan, forty-two, drowning her three daughters
then herself, from somnambulist hunger,
——crazy with nerves, yet sane enough to leave a note for her
husband, the train flagman at Savage Road Crossing,
——requesting he check the cistern for corpses beneath the floor.

On the tongue, the words of the dead have bread’s weight and texture
——breath, the odor of apricot.

Each cadaver’s kiss wet enough to slake my thirst.

With slack belly’s emptiness, I fear I may forget, forget women, forget everything except
——the powerlessness.

A starved pulse nectars my veins with hallucinatory juice of melons, pomegranate and blood
——oranges on a balcony.

Scent of jessamine, verbena, honeysuckle, lavender.

My heart swims through the inconsumable burning blood of the salamander,

unquenchable power of blood on the feeding tube, chattel blood, freed
——from occult of property.

Wiseblood and blood on the common bar of soap we wash
——with, my blood

rising to feed the dead the insurgent
——blood of the fasts.