Welcome to The Beat, Knox County Public Library’s poetry podcast. Today we’ll hear two prose poems by the poet GennaRose Nethercott. The poems are encyclopedic entries from a bestiary of invented creatures called 50 Beasts to Break Your Heart. Here are the poems “Yune” and “Yslani.”
Yunes were human once. They nursed babies and baked bread and made love beneath the shade of the willow tree. Then they were drowned in the bog on the edge of town. The marshlands kept them flawless. Their skin tanned tight as a drum skin, sealing their spirits inside like caged dogs. Snarling against their enclosure, the ghosts grew frantic, then foolish, then sick. By the time the bodies rose out of the silt, the ghosts had been trapped too long. They had become something new.
There’s an urban legend about a Yune that snuck into a high school party. Some kids were playing spin-the-bottle in the root cellar, and the Yune joined in. First Lily spun and had to kiss Ryan; then Ryan kissed Dale; then Dale kissed Nadia; then Nadia kissed the Yune, and when she did, the Yune’s ghost slipped through its parted lips and into Nadia’s mouth. It slithered down her windpipe and into her lungs, where it made a new home beside Nadia’s own ghost. Now there aren’t many girls with two ghosts in one body. She became quite the local celebrity. Talk shows brought her on to hear her bicker with herself in dead languages she had never been taught. Then they would hand her a small porcelain dish, into which she would cough up a mouthful of mud.
When a fruit-bearing tree is planted on a grave, a litter of Yslani will grow during the following drought season. In their fetal stages they resemble plums or dark peaches swelling on the bough. When they grow heavy enough, they drop into the underbrush and uncurl. It will take five days for their eyesight to develop, and until then, the Yslani will blindly claw at the soil in search of water. If one digs deep enough to uncover a body, that Yslani will be shunned from the pack. It will sit alone at the foot of the tree, begging for water in a voice that sounds all too much like the voice of the person buried beneath it. Do not give this Yslani water. We repeat: do not give this Yslani water. Walk away. Pretend you do not hear.Alan May:
You just heard GennaRose Nethercott reading two entries from her work 50 Beasts to Break Your Heart. She was kind enough to record these poems for us at her home in the woodlands of Vermont. Nethercott is a writer and folklorist. Her work has appeared in The American Scholar, Bomb Magazine, Pank, The Literary Review, and others. Her first book, The Lumberjack’s Dove, was selected by Louise Glück as a winner of the National Poetry Series, and her debut novel—the modern fairytale Thistlefoot—was published last month. She tours nationally and internationally performing strange tales (sometimes with puppets in tow) and composing poems-to-order on an antique typewriter with her team The Traveling Poetry Emporium. Look for books by GennaRose Nethercott in our online catalog. Also look for links in the show notes. Please join us next time for The Beat.