Your coffee was black enough to swallow you whole.
You watched the sun sink scarlet through the filmy window
and the regulars stared as they forked their dinner specials.
Our waitress wondered why you weren’t eating.
You couldn’t reassure her with your stitched smile
and she brought you a piece of chocolate pie,
frowned when you slid it to my side of the table.
She eyed my waist, my winding roads, my mountains,
your icicle fingers, your shadow-thin skin.
I wanted to tell her to mind her own business,
but she walked away, and my words condensed, evaporated.
You wouldn’t have wanted me to talk–
you’d been listening to talk for months–
so the scrape of my fork against the plate
was my hollow imitation of a welcome-home,
and as we stared through the glass at the spilled-wine sky
we tried to convince our window twins
that this was a celebration.
The water pooled like eyes in the quiet tin tub
goes cool after the seventh son takes his turn,
and you’re still scrubbing and scrubbing
at the baby’s newsprint toes
when she starts to shiver and you’re forced to forfeit:
the water has won.
The moon is a voice your ears have evolved against,
it’s a light to which you’re blind, and you toss the water away
without noticing the hollow face that follows you,
constantly lurking behind your left ear,
No festivals will take place tonight,
no worship of silver skin, no warm wash in sacred light.
The cold will not leave you.
Your husband rouses his arm to drape it
across your shoulders like a robe,
but you’re curled into your own tangles
of hair and thought and ice and breath
until the baby howls like a wolf in heat
and you must huddle over her
and search for the warmth you lost
somewhere beneath her skin.
Summer settles onto my chest, the trains are quiet,
they have nothing to say on television;
my heart’s tides are not newsworthy.
Maybe the world is full of gladness
in the absence of all else,
though the bugs are seething, as always, for blood.
Sundays the neighbors groom their grass,
sing anthems, clink bottles at barbecues.
The cicadas cling until their little feet lose stick,
resist release until gravity offers no alternative,
and I find their shells curled like onion skins
in fetal submission, embryos silenced before speech.
Something once inside of me is gone.
Bugs die days, weeks, after birth;
humans live for decades. It’s the same. I’m only young.
Nothing in this world will wait for me,
but nothing will pass me by.
The nursery wallpaper peels like a fruit
and at night I dream the furniture melts away.
I hold a phantom’s head for suckling.
The trains are quiet. I rest my ear against the window
to feel the cool, to pretend my head is quiet, too,
but the cicadas’ whine is trapped inside of me,
even when only skeletons remain.
Age 16, Grade 11
The Dalton School