Have You Seen This Girl?
I was eight. The stranger rattled the knob of the blue steel door. Through the window I could see his leather cowboy hat, hear a muffled voice ask to use the phone. There were more hats and shirts behind him. Hats and plaid and animal smiles. I would rather be famous than rich, but not like this. On the news: elementary school headshot with buckteeth and a halo of yellow wooly hair. Flashy caption HAVE YOU SEEN THIS GIRL? My mother yelled no as if that word had solidity. Hanging on to 911, her hand gripped the receiver, crushed it in half.
By the time you were done with me
you’d made me into a woman,
surprised my body into hips
and breasts, thick thighs, jacked
all the hormones, shattered my
bloodwork scatterplot into datapoint
shrapnel. All the docs lined up
to kiss my chart for luck.
An outlier, I spent long hours lying
and eating. Had to tend the change
of cloud formations behind my eyelids.
This was your job: to cloud the night terrors
right out. Only you just made them meta.
I breakfasted on leeches. Held my hand
under the tap until I had an envelope
of pinking scald. I wanted to lie in bed,
eat and eat, and you let me. Fat little cumulus
was how you liked me best. So I would
lie still while they picked my mind
like a bird takes meat from a shell.
Imagine them finding me, shoving a river rock
between my ribs. Still, I lie unrevived.
It’s a myth how the toys come to life
when the playroom is silent.
The other girls slink and pose,
smell like cherries or rain.
My brain hums beneath a plastic skull;
my tongue flaps behind a stitched-up smile.
Make me real.
…Therapists around 1900 were aesthetically fascinated by hysteric symptoms.
—Patrick Werkner, “The Child-Woman and Hysteria”
How your shoulder blades jut
from your back like branches
barely buried in snow! The white coats
applaud you; greedy eyes track the tremble
of belly and thigh, the tight rosette
of nipple on your shivering breast.
Let your nails maul your face
like stinging spiders. Let your coarse
hair whip their wrists as they reach out
to calm you. They leer at your expression, blank
as night sky through an unfocused lens.
You will teach them holy mysteries:
how death chases sex, how joy rides fright
like an unwanted suitor, keeps calling and calling,
and will not take his leave.
Or you will sit facing the corner in your cell
denuded of comfort. You will return
the food trays spattered, upside down.
Jill Khoury earned her Masters of Fine Arts from The Ohio State University. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in numerous journals, including Sentence, MiPOesias, Rufous City Review, and Harpur Palate. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize twice by Breath and Shadow: A Journal of Disability Culture and Literature, and has a chapbook, Borrowed Bodies (Pudding House Press).