Everyone keeps trying to give me this daughter. She has been in
my house, but she did not come with me. I am following her
around the top of a town I think is the whole town. Even the
river is just a surface. A street down which I look both ways.
The solid ground, the stone floor of the church, each drawn on
rock is a hint she leaves. The basement is a darkness you don’t
even know is there. I touch my forehead with two fingers.
Everything I can feel right now is mine.
The town is burnt & they live in the ash-blacked walls like
nurses. They pace back & forth by the bed, weeping. Each one
holds the knife she entered with. Each one trails the bandage,
wedded to the building & the secret fire beneath. The hospital
is all flesh & the barbed wire of knowing what you’ve done. The
nurses sob without a sound, blood that spills out like breath.
Nothing is burning now.
In my walking dreams I dreamed this town & you promised it
to me. I dreamed this lake & these pines & these buildings too,
though the sun touched them when I dreamed. When I woke up
from walking I was alone in the town, but the town had rusted
under the endless ash-fall of night. I took your wallet. It was the
smallest thing I could be sure you’d come after. That’s what
you’re going to face the dead for. It’s not rust that covers the
town, it’s blood. It’s not blood, it’s the sound of the town
burning every time it snows.
At the gates I wish I could make you go back. You simply push
the gate aside. That scraping sound is everywhere. The town
is setting itself up behind you. It creates the past as you walk
down this hall. It looked like a hall but now it’s an office.
It looked like an office but it’s another jail.
A hole appears. The hole is another kind of trap. He tries his
hand at the knife, the light, the rescue. All the women wail. You
are following a shadow that bleeds. At the end of the road is a
tunnel. At the end of the tunnel is a room. You can’t leave the
room. That’s the way these holes work.
We want to know what the dream is. You dream that the room
is a film & light burns the room back into what it was before.
Someone calls you on the phone & tells you to save them.
They have a token, they say, if you need it.
The flashlight is an umbrella & a beacon: it splints the weak
wrist but the darkness nurses in your direction. You want to
ask everyone you see what is going on but everyone you see is
screaming. No one can read the sign on the ground, no one can
help me get out of this building, no one can tell me the name of
the girls hanging in perfectly arranged rows.
When you said anything you didn’t mean these: bound at the
waist & backs split open. They stand up & stand up. Stay on the
road, they say. This is the road, they say: come to me. The map
is real, like something I’ve only just learned how to pronounce.
You turn in time with the memorized map till you reach a wall
made entirely of nurses: gouged out faces beneath the bandage.
They are alive in the light & want to put an end to it.
There are hooks in the flesh of the floor. Up & down on the
chain like carousel horses. The pretty paint, the skirted legs.
You point the flashlight forward but turn back. The legs are
twitching. Or shivering. The nurses are the dark. They crowd
out the light with their blindness. They are shivering their
skin off so it will not have to know what follows.
It’s a ghost that runs away, it’s a ghost and not those pink little
girls with their backs all sewed up, it’s a ghost that plays the
child’s toy. Listen. There has to be a clue in the song. There is
always a song that solves something. The keys are animals:
bears for the bear that’s chained to the ceiling, birds for the
bird & the shovel, dogs for the incessant barking of the snow.
They show me a picture of a girl who is not my daughter.
Everyone is furious. She cannot belong to me because too much
time has passed. In which none of them has changed. There is
something we all don’t understand about my daughter.
You watch her mouth move but the name of the town is silent &
everything in the town is named after the town. The painting
where it burns doesn’t say a thing. You watch her mouth move
but the water covers it up.
In the water the blood is a dye & when you want to see
the message you use the water like a bleach to eat away at
everything that is not the message.
They are going grey and slack in there & no one pushes food
into the grates, no one pushes water into the grates & the water
comes down from the ceiling & it washes their bodies right
through the hole & they are too dead to notice the other
children coming down the hole.
The pool is drained but the baby carriage is still in the center.
The children are slow to starve. Their ribs make a dry pool
beneath their caved-in mouths. There is a treasure made of
metal in the carriage. Run. They bend back. They are trying to
spread their ribs like wings. They are taking a very deep
breath. They are trying to blind you with what comes next.
The ladder is a symbol for the fire to run up: there is counting
for anticipation. How much worse the heat than the fire, how
you plan to breathe your lungs away before your skin. It’s just a
guess. Never the rope, where it burns & slips; instead the metal
clamp, the palm that never recovers. & who is left to see it: sack
on a stepladder.
She saunters along behind you. Just a dream, she says. You
think she’s dreamed herself the wrong shoes. She thinks she’s
dreamed her voice into a new animal. & a terrible one. Might as
well have some fun. She is going to try to seduce you when all
she has left is hair, long hair that covers the ghost of her body &
you are going to pin her to the ground with obedience, yes.
You watch what is left of a woman come through the thin skin
of the wall. She shakes & crawls. Both of you count the tiles that
separate you, but come to different conclusions. It’s hard to
know what you are so afraid of. All she wants is to get up into
That’s you. & you are really trying.
Sections of this chapbook were previously published in The Collapsar.
Back to Cartridge Lit.