She was a child of the forest.
Birthed on a bed of moss
and swaddled in beech leaves.
Her first cries shook the trees,
as they reached branches out
to stroke new infant skin.
They coaxed her spirit into the bark
where it seeped into sap and through her veins.
He was a child of the sea
Born of the waves and rocks
placed in a cradle of sand
still wet with his mother’s blood
the sea winds stole his first breath
And cast his soul to the depths,
he would always return to the sea.
They were sun and moon lovers.
She, the daughter of golden light through leaves
He, the son of silver glints on dark waves, fleeting.
She would find him on nights of the harvest moon,
walking along the shore, stop him from running
into the sea.
He would find her at noon,
lying in the leaf mold beneath the trees
her eyes cloudy with sunlight.
He’d cover them,
afraid she would go blind.
can you remember the name of that tree?
the one with the big leaves?"
He asks me, raising a withered hand
towards the young magnolia,
not yet blooming.
"Magnolia, I believe."
A light comes into his clouded eyes.
"Ah! Magnolia! Thank you."
he says, before shuffling away.
I pause for a moment.
Staring at the sapling.
Something stirs in memory.
Something deep, or shallow,
I cannot tell.
Memory, none the less.
I feel as though I should remember
a meaning behind the white flowers,
and broad leaves,
but I draw a blank.
Touch it: it won't shrink like an eyeball,
This egg-shaped bailiwick, clear as a tear.
Here's yesterday, last year ---
Palm-spear and lily distinct as flora in the vast
Windless threadwork of a tapestry.
Flick the glass with your fingernail:
It will ping like a Chinese chime in the slightest air stir
Though nobody in there looks up or bothers to answer.
The inhabitants are light as cork,
Every one of them permanently busy.
At their feet, the sea waves bow in single file.
Never trespassing in bad temper:
Stalling in midair,
Short-reined, pawing like paradeground horses.
Overhead, the clouds sit tasseled and fancy
As Victorian cushions. This family
Of valentine faces might please a collector:
They ring true, like good china.
Elsewhere the landscape is more frank.
The light falls without letup, blindingly.
A woman is dragging her shadow in a circle
About a bald hospital saucer.
It resembles the moon, or a sheet of blank paper
And appears to have suffered a sort of private blitzkrieg.
She lives quietly
With no attachments, like a foetus in a bottle,
The obsolete house, the sea, flattened to a picture
She has one too many dimensions to enter.
Grief and anger, exorcised,
Leave her alone now.
The future is a grey seagull
Tattling in its cat-voice of departure.
Age and terror, like nurses, attend her,
And a drowned man, complaining of the great cold,
Crawls up out of the sea.
I tried to explain to my mother
what it feels like to have a demon
screaming inside your head,
bludgeoning you with the command
not to take that extra bite.
She stared blankly,
wondering, in the back of her mind
If I was entirely sane.
When I say I still have demons
they probably think story book goblins
hiding, dormant, in the corners of my mind,
a glint of eyes, a low growl.
It is much more insidious than that.
There is no Exorcist whisper, no voice from the depths of hell.
They are not so common.
Instead, it's my own voice that echoes from inside the mirror.
In the same tone I use
when telling my little sister to hurry or she'll be late for school,
or yelling at the cat
to get off the table.
It is frighteningly familiar.
Skip lunch today/you look fat today/that's too much/work out more/holy shit that's 300 calories don't even think about it/no you weren't good enough today to deserve that/stay skinny/200 more crunches go
They say schizophrenics hear different voices.
But there's no dissociative identity disorder here.
I hear my voice.
Every manipulative, destructive, self loathing, thought, culminated
"Am I fat?"
My little sister asks,
poking a delicate finger at her tiny stomach.
My heart sinks.
I stare at her thin limbs
well muscled from gymnastics
and playground antics.
"No. Don’t ever let me hear the "F" word come out of your mouth again,"I say.
But I know she will ask again.
She will ask herself when she stares in the mirror,
and will pass judgment on her thighs, her hips, her stomach.
Just as I
and nearly every other woman ever born,
asks the glass, permission to approach the bench
and the judge gives a final verdict— not thin/pretty/beautiful/skinny/fair/tan/ enough.
How fucked up it is—that we think worth is visible.
She cut her finger while slicing bread,
no one gasped, or winced
with her exclamation of "Fuck"
aimed towards the bent, saw-toothed steel.
She bloodied a kleenex,
then strangled her fingertip
with a band-aid.
She didn't mind the sight of blood.
She'd grown used to it in childhood.
From scratching the welts
left by mosquitoes till they were crimson.
She remembered accompanying her little sister
to a routine checkup
and the nurse looked down at her scarred legs
and asked if there was anything wrong
with the big one.
It was the first time
she learned to feel shame
for her scars.
In fourth grade she had a crush
on the class clown.
She liked his black hair
and blue eyes
and he made her laugh.
He ignored her.
Later, she found out
he called her pimple-face behind her back
by then, she no longer cared
what he though, feelings had faded,
but the pain of being told
you were second to last
in the classes "Beautiful" rating
(second only to the freckled girl with tiny eyes).
She learned her crooked teeth were things to be ashamed of.
Braces helped, but four years of wires
and widening her tiny jaw
with medieval, key driven devices
that prevented normal speech,
were hardly an improvement.
She learned pain was beauty,
but being able to take pain well
was not beautiful.
Being able to run swiftly,
having monkey-bar calloused hands
and strong arms,
only made her unfeminine.
She did not sit placidly on the swing-set
admiring her fingernails,
when a fly buzzed past her ear.
She rescued frost-winged bees from being crushed,
laying them gently in the grass.
She held back tears when the asphalt stripped her palms.
She wanted to be brave.
Respected for the strength she thought she had.
That did not come till ten years later.
He called her a water nymph,
jumping from rock to rock like a small child,
though childhood had long since gone.
Laughed as she caught salamanders.
She cut her toe while they were walking together.
It began to bleed.
She said nothing, thinking it would stop,
letting the blood fill her shoe.
He panicked a little, wanted to carry her.
But he bandaged her foot, gently,
like a morbid Cinderella,
as she washed the blood out of her sandal.
He complimented her graceful run.
Things she'd wanted noticed
for ten years.
She didn't know when she would find
who saw her, as he did.