Sally Rosen Kindred
I want him to rise,
to grow, I want his fingers longer
and his body lean
like a cold wind, leaning
away from me, taking off
at a run if that’s what it takes
to wake and speak
from his own hard teeth. I don’t want him
to be who I was at sixteen,
my skin slung tight
around those panic bones
cramped by thin-air dreams
of my mother’s heart and lungs. I’d wake
choked in my bed to the black alarm
of my mother’s soft body across the hall
in a crooked room alone. But how hard
not to crave him small,
those long blue hours in the chair
in November: wool blanket
on us and the heavy book.
His heft against me, his brief curls
laced to my cheek.
Nothing I did wrong just then
could come to much: he was warm,
I was thick, scratchy, almost
harmless, the blanket blue
across our bodies like late-day snow
and the book brimming with a story
I hadn’t made, a story I only had
to read. Sometimes
that love got so simple
we could do nothing
but sleep. And our dark was safe:
it was the sleep of animals
who have no alphabet but touch,
and my hand around his shoulder was enough
for just that moment and the lost one that came after.
Why She Became a House of Gingerbread
Truth is, she was having trouble getting organized.
When she’d drop the kids off at school, she’d press her mouth to the tops of their heads which meant wool hats which meant getting their red fibers crossed in her teeth. They tasted fossilized, ripped free, like rinds of dried moon. They tasted good.
She’d walk home through the woods, and anyway it was like a glass saucer full of dead leaves turned over, scorched miles past summer, beauty too late to set right.
Truth is, she was always so much better at the past.
Back at home she filled a room with plastic bins from Costco. But she didn’t know what to put in them.
And she was slowing down, her ankles and wrists getting stiff. Her doctor said arthritis, but when she bent to nose the fine hair on her knee, she smelled sugar.
She could put what the kids didn’t need in the bins, and stand them end to end, but then their names would be divided by walls of white plastic.
And besides, they’d want all these things out: they’d want shards of plastic to roll their bodies through, they’d want to gnaw through the skins of things with their shiny teeth; they’d want her singing, stirring, spinning her heels, her toes glossy with health, ready to spring.
She was always so much better at the past, with its small wood clock, its poker, its pile of light spooned in the window. It was closed, like a song: it kept itself clean.
She’d bitten the knee herself but didn’t like it. It wanted salt.
Now it was well past noon. She looked at the hard beds she’d made for them. The litter of plastic mouths, the mess. She saw all she hadn’t done.
And the kids would be coming home soon, they’d take the woods and she’d need to feed them, they’d want her to, they’d be wanting something sweet.
It’s all afternoon
in your childhoods. I’m tired.
The hour is scratched leather,
the sun stews on our brown couch.
Necessity makes me
the mother. There’s a book
in my lap to keep me
from invention, an ocean
in it quaking. The late light
stirs in your names, the book
warms them in a great black pot.
Here’s what lifts you, boys,
makes you paw at the plot rising
off the couch: arrows
overtake the island, and our gasps
rise after, steaming.
You’ve been so hungry. Now you climb
the story’s sides. Leap back: now it burns.
See its torches light my voice,
fill it sand-and-salt with danger. I’m
the mother, the witch, the briny womb.
I grow and cook the strangers. Eat
of the book in my lap,
its sweet plot the wrong desire and all I have
to give you. Let
your bodies lean
onto the failures of the page:
See? The motherless ocean.
See the boys there fly.
The Story Tells Itself
“Oh, the stories I could tell to the boys!” [Wendy] cried, and then Peter gripped her and began to draw her toward the window.—J. M. Barrie, Peter Pan and Wendy
The Story of.
And yes, I live
under the tongue
of Wendy Darling,
a trap pink
as the petticoats
of this flimsy
British dark. Her voice
is weak tea,
her hands tremble
at sinkholes in the plot.
What rot. And always
I’m chafing my feet
on her next detail.
Always I’m walking
on her glass. I’d prefer
a year in the tar.
I don’t want to feel
more fairy-tale heat,
his close breath
as we go through the window.
Hovering at my climax,
the fury-clocks chime:
isn’t that enough?
I don’t want to fly.
She uses me,
as an actual mother.
Soaring, she’ll say
The story tells itself
in a cloud of modesty
but she’ll be wrong. If I
could hold my whole
in my own mouth
I’d turn my tongue
to a sword swift
as the prince’s and heave it
against each twist
until the wicked plot bled
and got better. I’d get
to the point, neither
tricked nor tricky
as this wishy girl. Then
I’d go back
to my kingdom of ash
and smother the ballroom
in a death-mess caked gray.
Lost Boys on the dance floor?
I’d make them tell and tell me
till they crumbled.
What Tinker Bell Tells the Last Boy
You thought I’d last. Boys don’t die of daybreak
but fairies’ hearts are black math: when you’re not
looking we fly past the decimal point
into sun’s thousandths—or hit a planet,
a plate, a wall marked No Body, or Boy. Our skins fry:
we sweat out mashed glass, heat from the swat
of a song-soft hand or hook. You think it can’t matter
what you believe. But some of us are thin
as dreams, blooms dancing on your lips’ pale stems,
dancing because we can’t land.
We’re dwindling imaginary numbers
counting on your fruit-gloss skin.
In my heart now, light’s division, pinwheel wings spinning down.
In my brain a factory of clouds
push out your lost mouth.
You thought I was a holiday, some Darling’s
toy. You thought a boy could only play
with fairies. Now look: my breath’s all soot.
In a bitter mirror, dear, we both looked sweet.
You smelled glitter so you bit. Electric.
You cracked my candy heart between your teeth.
[previously published in Jabberwock]
“Story Hour,” “The Story Tells Itself,” and “What Tinker Bell Tells the Last Boy,” appear in Darling Hands, Darling Tongue (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2013, forthcoming later this May).
Sally Rosen Kindred’s poetry collection is No Eden (Mayapple Press, 2011). Her poems have appeared in Quarterly West, diode, Verse Daily, and other journals. Her awards include fellowships from the Maryland State Arts Council and the Virginia Center for Creative Arts. Darling Hands, Darling Tongue, her chapbook of poems about reading Peter Pan as a mother and re-thinking the girls of Never-land, is forthcoming from Hyacinth Girl Press.