Claudia Cortese

The Uvula Knows I Will Be Motherless One Day So She Weeps All Night as I Sleep through the Last Days of the Republic

Terror gurgles up to the bell
at the back of my throat.

What is that bell called. I Google
bell at back of throat. The first site responds, uvula,

cluster of grapes, Latin, fleshy
extension above the soft palate.

My mother flew here from Napoli
on a Delta flight in 1979, no green lady shining her torch

above the Atlantic, no nostalgias of immigration.
She crunched peanuts and shrugged

as the metallic bird parted smog on its way down.
Google says the uvula serves no purpose.

The sight of it reminds me of the flayed head
of Warren Mears in the Buffy episode

where Warren murders Willow’s girlfriend.
In a show of monsters, the fandom agrees

this human boy was the most terrifying of all.
He killed not to conjure an amulet that induces apocalypse

or expand his sorcery to omnipotence.
He killed because women wouldn’t fuck him.

Willow hunts him down, ties him to a tree. As he sputters
excuses, begs for life, she sighs Bored now

and flays off his skin with the flit of her wrist.
This bell chimes pinkly in our human throats

for no reason beyond body’s music. Bored now
with that explanation. I don’t want an empire of tomatoes

brightening my garden in this poem. I don’t want
stars’ caesuras slashing the dark open, constellated

metaphor for grief. Bored now
with poets playing language like rococo queens

among wigs that bob as exiled clouds.
Adrienne Rich said Beauty lies.

Stars lie. Milk lies. A bell lies. Tomatoes lie.
Empires lie. God lies. Each time the Church decided to construct

a cathedral, the peasants rioted. They knew
they’d be forced to labor till death to erect a gorgeous monster.

If you think love is gentle, you’ve never loved.
I would bite, hiss, shriek, greedy

for more and more of my mother.
The month she landed the star

role in a play touring Italy she discovered
she carried my brother in her body. She says

she wouldn’t have it any other way, says
she’d die for her kids she loves us that much

but I know we killed the star inside her.

Claudia Cortese is a poet, essayist, and fiction writer. Her debut full-length, Wasp Queen (Black Lawrence Press, 2017), won Southern Illinois University’s Devil’s Kitchen Award for Emerging Poetry. Her work has appeared in Bitch Magazine, Black Warrior Review, Crazyhorse, Gulf Coast, and The Offing, among others. She recently published the first peer-reviewed article examining the book covers of fat-identifying poets. Cortese received a 2018 OUTstanding Faculty Ally of the Year certificate from the LGBTQ+ Center at Montclair State University and is the Book Reviews Editor for Muzzle Magazine. The daughter of Neapolitan immigrants, Cortese grew up in Ohio’s Rust Belt and lives in New Jersey.