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Hells Bells

Wasn’t allowed to listen

to secular music. Mother said

it was the devil’s music.

Church said Satan was made

of music, glory of the Lord

inlaid in his pipes.

Before he was cast out, pastor

said Satan led heaven’s choir.

Lucifer still sings pastor said

and we could hear him

on Rock ‘n’ Roll records

backwards, hell-bent & warbled.

Sometimes when I’m bored

I research the Manson murders.

I often think about Sharon Tate’s

shredded pregnant body. One night,

I even looked up the pictures. Yes,

of course, it was beyond brutal.

But I wanted to see complete damage.

The mess didn’t scare me.

Supposedly Sharon screamed:

Mother! Mother! Mother!

Mother! Mother! Mother!

before & while they knifed her.

When I said I wasn’t scared

I’m not saying I wasn’t disgusted.

I’m saying copious amounts of blood

& horror look familiar to me,

maybe expected is a better word,

or, rather, that I that wanted to be certain

I was alive. Okay, it was about control.

I’m grasping at what I know

& don’t know for precise meaning,

even now I think scare is not quite right,

which makes me think of Lowell’s

wedge-headed mother skunk

inside that empty cup of sour cream.

My first CD was Alanis Morissette.

I listened to her Jagged Little Pill

on repeat. I liked that secret song

about her breaking into her lover’s house

& dancing in the shower just like the raw root

of any dark sound: desperation.

During the whole song, she repeatedly

asks her lover for forgiveness

just like any long poem saying:

would you forgive me love for not being concise,

would you forgive me love is what I’m struggling to say,

would you forgive me love is all I am ever trying to say.

When my mother found

this silver disc she shattered it

in front of my face, yelling.

I don’t remember what.

I just recall the pattern in which

it broke like a loud little web.

I threw the mirrored shards

into the trash with my faces,

sliced & reeling. At church

I wouldn’t sing & my mother

would poke me in the arm.

I would try & lift my hands

hoping to feel something

more than just trying to feel

something holy, a peace

I didn’t possess but grieved.

I reached above my head

for some slice of surrender.

How pure & wordless & magical

& vague & replete & blurred

it is to worship anything

at all I sometimes think,

but God keeps nudging me.

My mother is still yelling at me,

& most of the Manson girls

are now old women professing Christ.

Is this what time does to all believers?

Remember buying a new CD—

I’m still clawing at that plastic crinkle,

my faith in the liner notes,

thanking everybody, even you

& you & mostly you. Yes,

you must believe, most of all,

I’m begging to be saved.


Tiana Clark is the author of the I Can’t Talk About the Trees Without the Blood (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2018), winner of the 2017 Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize, and Equilibrium (Bull City Press, 2016), selected by Afaa Michael Weaver for the 2016 Frost Place Chapbook Competition. Clark is the winner of a 2019 Pushcart Prize, as well as the 2017 Furious Flower’s Gwendolyn Brooks Centennial Poetry Prize and 2015 Rattle Poetry Prize. Her writing has appeared in or is forthcoming from The New Yorker, Poetry Magazine, Kenyon Review, American Poetry Review, New England Review, Best New Poets 2015, Lenny Letter, and elsewhere.

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