The Haunted Girl

by Lisa Bradley


The haunted girl wears white
sometimes gray
            if it's been a long time
            if the rats have been gnawing the hem
            eating the lace
sometimes her dress looks blue
            by moonlight
            tv light
sometimes it flashes silver
            another warning in the night
            reflecting your headlights.


The haunted girl wears a dress
sometimes a taffeta straitjacket
            choking her from throat to calf
sometimes starched calico
            cuffs tight, waistline sharp
            like concertina wire
sometimes her dress is loose and flowing
            the cotton nearly transparent
            the weave wavering before your will
            filmy as the breath flowing from your lips
but not hers.


The haunted girl has no feet.

Men don't look that far down.


The haunted girl is only sometimes a girl
sometimes she's a young woman
sometimes she's a mother
            although a murdering one.
But the haunted girl is never old.

Then she would be the crone.


The haunted girl has mirror eyes
sometimes opalescent
            if you fear forgetting, being forgotten
            like barren eggshells
            empty seashells
            flashlights in the fog.
Sometimes they're black gloss
            if you fear futility
            absolute as a mine shaft
            blank as a brick wall.
Sometimes they're simply scarlet.

Because you know you have it coming.


The haunted girl is dirty
The haunted girl is clean
The haunted girl is clean
            until she is dirty
            until you realize
            you're embracing a corpse.


The haunted girl has no belly
            only a cave beneath her ribs
The haunted girl has a bikini belly
            carved with muscle useless
            but for pin-up poses and celluloid dreams
The haunted girl has a gently swelling belly
            soft and welcoming
            ready to absorb you
            ready to birth
            an array of monsters.


The haunted girl has a cunt
a multiplicity of cunts
too many to describe.


The haunted girl chokes out her truth
The haunted girl tells lies
The haunted girl singsongs or grunts
Just depends on how she died
            did they cut out her tongue?
            did they crush her vocal cords?
            did they slit her throat?
            did they stab her lungs?
Does she have a secret to tell?
            would you even listen?


The haunted girl is always cold
sometimes she grips you
            icy fingers on your sweaty skin
sometimes she slides against you
            a porcelain princess
            caressed but never cherished
sometimes she is a breath of midnight
            the mausoleum whisper kissing your neck.


The haunted girl is always cold
I know — I have tried to warm her
I've wrapped my coat around her shoulders
I've tied a scarf beneath her chin
I've seated her beside the skittish fire
            given her hot mugs she cannot hold
I've tried to run a warm bath
I've tried to change her clothes
I've torn the white gray blue dirty clean clutching clinging unraveling dress from her body
I've seen her bruised shoulders
            her hollowed throat
            her sunken chest
            her breasts — silhouettes of meaning she didn't create
                        flat and vulnerable
                        high and healthy
                        large and soft
            silhouettes much-revised
                        bitten cut sliced punched injected gouged burned —
I've seen, at her center,
            beneath the ravaged breasts
            above that hydra cunt and ambivalent belly


            unabridged emptiness
            a galaxy deserted by stars

This is the haunted girl.


That is why she's cold
            She is the bloodless chalice
That is why she's haunted
            She is the obsolete signifier
That is why she haunts and hates you
            She is the negation of so many illusions
            she echoes

That is why she's everywhere.

Lisa Bradley's poetry has appeared in venues as diverse as Mothering, Weird Tales, ChiZine, and Iowa City buses. She wishes she could say the blood orange is her favorite fruit, but really it's the less glamorous (but still luscious) nectarine.

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