Jeannine Hall Gailey
Love Story (with Fire Demon and Tengu)
Maybe in this version you are a bird, and I have become an old woman. Maybe you ate a falling star. It’s hard to love someone in a castle—they always feel distant. I will open a flower shop and learn to speak German, take to wearing ruffled dresses and straw hats. You’d like to pin me down, but you could tell my feet weren’t touching the ground. I called your name over and over, but you couldn’t hear me above the din of the bombers. It was like movies of wartime Japan. I looked up and there were planes bulging with smoke.
The blue sky kept getting darker –
sometimes, I thought,
with your shadow.
In the end, I have a dog in my arms and a scarecrow for a friend, but I never make it to Kansas. The field is wet and stormy, I kiss three men goodnight for their magic. The door to your childhood is opening for me. It allows me passage into a brick wall, my fists full of shiny black feathers, the shell of an egg, the howl of cold wind against a mountain. Don’t worry, your heart is in good hands. Let me keep it a little longer; its blue glow illuminates everything.
from She Returns to the Floating World
The Robot Scientist’s Daughter [nomad]
is a nomad who roams the streets looking for evidence of God. Around her the crashed debris of society. She lists the scientific names of butterflies: Lepidoptera, Nymphalidae. In every town, the freeways are the same but the weather patterns shift; one day dense fog, the next, tornadoes in an empty gold field.
The road unwraps like scissors slicing down a strip of ribbon to make it curl. American towns melt into sunsets, into dust clouds, into faces friendly and unfriendly. She spent her childhood meandering from frozen New England towns to the sunny smogs of Southern California, her father always in search of something, a better life, her mother making do, not asking questions. She remembers her eyes full of tears and her fist full of cupcake, one of her earliest memories saying goodbye, goodbye from a moving car.
Like Monarch butterflies on their archaic march, or hummingbirds filling their bellies for flight from Canada to Mexico, she too has taken wing, soaring from one continent to another, a great migration leaving only the barest hint of her struggles behind. Some say there was a sighting in New Haven, or maybe Tennessee. You should know she’s careful to leave no signs for predators.
The Robot Scientist’s Daughter [morbid]
is not as innocent as you think. Sure, she grieves for the dead, for the destruction of even one baby rabbit by a lawn mower, the dead kitten in the grass mauled by dogs. She even saw her grandmother in a coffin, still and beautiful with pink cheeks. But her mother has started calling her morbid. As a child she studied the Latin names for diseases, the art of dissection, insisted upon the organization of genus and species among her stuffed animals, collected Safari Cards. She had no problem pinning insects.
This cannot end well, her mother thinks to herself. She encourages playing with other children, the joys of tag and ghost-in-the-graveyard. But instead the girl hides underground, pretending to be a troll or a witch. She puts leaves in her hair and collects fossils, lining them up to spell words, the swirling trilobite, the imprints of the mysterious dead.
previously published in MARGIE
You can’t go home again, because the house you grew up in has been razed, along with the rose garden and oak trees and fossil rocks. You keep touching the place like a scar, trying to figure out what was lost. You try rebuilding, stone upon stone, a little ghost in the window and a cat on the lawn, what were you looking for? Except here, the mountains don’t have any trees, and that sound you hear is the ocean.
One by one you take out
the chairs, the books, the bats
from your hair.
Artifacts you remember your life by. So many pages with worn-out handwriting, and a phone number of someone you’ve already forgotten. You turn around and it’s burning outside: maybe it’s the moon, blood-red over the city lights, or the angry maple leaves, or a fire made of leaves and the severed limbs of trees and roots, or just the mist around a ship that’s gone astray on the harbor. Honeymoon, a circle of vessels to keep your spirit in. Those bird calls a map, that last broken branch a totem, a path to guide you home.
among the 2007 winners of the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prize, and posted at their website
Jeannine Hall Gailey is the author of Becoming the Villainess (Steel Toe Books, 2006) and She Returns to the Floating World (Kitsune Books, 2011.) Her work has been featured on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac, Verse Daily, and in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. Her poems have appeared in journals like The Iowa Review, The Seattle Review, and Prairie Schooner. She volunteers as an editorial consultant for Crab Creek Review and currently teaches at the MFA program at National University.