Selections from Meditations of a Beast by Kristine Ong Muslim


meditations-of-a-beast-cover

In today’s jmwwblog, selections from Kristine Ong Muslim’s forthcoming poetry collection Meditations of a Beast, from Cornerstone Press, available December 9th. From Cornerstone: “To read her work is to read the mind at work, as Ms. Muslim challenges staid stereotypes, forces out old ghosts, and resurrects new possibilities.”

Kristine Ong Muslim is the author of Age of Blight, Butterfly Dream, Lifeboat, A Roomful of Machines, Grim Series, We Bury the Landscape, and Black Arcadia.  She serves as the poetry editor of LONTAR: The Journal of Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction, a literary journal published in Singapore, and she has been widely published in magazines and anthologies across the globe. She grew up and continues to live in the rural southern Philippines.

 

The Happiness Bottle

Little illusion, little stench of hope,
what were you like before you came here?

One squirt from your retractable neck
and our vision swims out of focus,
our daydreams distend, landlocked.
We are suddenly and inexplicably happy.
For years, we secretly used you
on our broken daughters, who
pretended to eat their vegetables,
then on our dead sons who, night after night,
hammered boat planks into roller coasters.
On days when we knew for sure that we
were ready to die, we hid you inside
our pockets, drove to the nearest park
or the breakwater facing the sea at low tide.
One squirt from your retractable neck
and we float, red balloons of desperation,
laughing, laughing away from here.

 

The Melting Toy

Little stranger, little white taffy,
what were you like before you came here?

Didn’t your mother used to beat you up
because your makeshift knees
would not support your boneless body,
because you could not stand up to scrutiny
before your brutish jack-in-the-box father?
The god of dough created you in his likeness.
When there was a need to kneel during prayer,
you simply lay there, a puddle on the ground
melding with spilt milk and smashed peanut shells.
That crooked mouth of yours forever agape.
Eyes swimming in and out of your liquefying face.
Eyes taking in everything above and underneath you.

 

The Heavy Luggage

Little outcast, little dead weight,
what were you like before you came here?

Were those stretched lips, those leather handles,
the same limbs you used to pry your way
into our world where we would have
walked on our own pace if not for you?
You should have known how many bus stops,
how many baggage claim counters in airports
we had visited in our attempts to abandon you.
And always at the end of the day, the doorbell
would ring and you, squat and black,
would find your way back to us,
would be right there on the welcome mat.
Wagging your tail as if you had one.

 

The Smug Aquarium

Little lake, little burbling city,
what were you like before you came here?

You do not have to wait long
for your rectangular hollow to be filled.
We lured the most colorful sea creatures
for you. The fish, listlessly swimming
with their bioluminescent dorsal fins,
scamper when you stir in your sleep.
One tap against your clear glass body,
and the sea anemones flinch. The artificial
light and air bubbles conceal your entrails,
and that unfortunate glass tubing of a throat,
which distracts us, finally keeps us in awe.
The stagnant water snags intact your droppings
and your sustenance. No one can tell
where your stomach lining was first pierced.

 

The Witch’s Familiar

Little engine, little albino stray,
what were you like before you came here?

What would your voice sound like
if only you could talk? What would you say?
Cobbled up from flattened tin cans, cereal boxes,
and telephone wires, you had no need
for sleep, for gratification, for skin grafts.
All these years, those usual wants
did not even occur to you.
Whether you were hurt
or felt betrayed did not matter.
Only that you could somehow slip
in my place and take the fall for me.

 

The Half-Butterfly

Little darkness, little death’s head wing
what were you like before you came here?

Didn’t the flap of your wings recently cause a twister?
Your mothman ancestor had lived among us for many years.
We made movies about him. On late-night talk shows,
we interviewed him about how he survived two months
away from the laboratory where there was artificial
atmosphere and frozen food—the essentials of a decent life.
All this time we thought we understood the motivations
of creatures like you. But when we caught you shedding
your chrysalis to reveal the androgynous humanoid
underneath, we discovered how much we hated
your physical perfection, your acuity, your strength.
You reminded us of our inadequacies,
our loathing for our swarthy, ailing forms.
So we cast the first stone. We hunted you to extinction.
There would never be any room for you in this world.
Only in our legends would we allow you to dwell.
Like the mermaid whose tail we used for kindling.
Like the wolfman we dried out into a scarecrow.
Like the minotaur we castrated in the bullfight
in the unjust arena where we can easily cheat
and compensate for our lack of honor, our hollowness.

 

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