She Returns to the Floating World

by Jeannine Hall Gailey


Last night I dreamed I was a firefly,
and you shook a stick at me.

I was a peony flower, my feet in the mud,
and you put me in a vase to wither.

I was a white butterfly, and your relatives
shooed me from your deathbed.

All these years ago you promised me 
you’d tend to my grave, be faithful.

I keep resurfacing, hoping one day
you will know my name. 


When she came back from the dead, she wasn't the same. 
You knew she couldn't be. In her eyes something 
but her mouth couldn't form the words. 
Her body simply wouldn't stay still --
in your grasp she seemed to be one thing, 
then another. She simply couldn't speak 
in the same voice. Her bones dissolved in her sleep, 
her blood angry ran in many directions. 
When you looked at her too long she shimmered. 
You couldn't be sure she was even there, 
maybe she wanted the sleep. You worry 
she's lying to you. You worry that however long you have her, 
the grave will always have more. She came back to you, 
again and again, always wearing a new skin.
If they planted you in the ground, 
you don't know if you would have the strength to rise again. 


You have to be more than human to begin with. 
Renewal takes time, spirit and sinew.
These bright containers temporary. 
Every turtle-princess, every peony-girl,
knows beneath the surface of the water 
is another world. I was in danger, and you could not save me. 
You are in danger. I am danger. If you hold my hand, 
you will disappear leaving flames in your wake. 
You may return in a hundred years holding a treasure chest 
full of demons and lost time. 
I promised you nothing except remembrance. 

Jeannine Hall Gailey is the author of Becoming the Villainess, published by Steel Toe Books. Poems from the book were featured on NPR's The Writer's Almanac with Garrison Keillor and Verse Daily; two were chosen for 2007's The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror. Her work has appeared in The Iowa Review, Mythic Delirium, and Star*Line. Her poems have been nominated for The Pushcart Prize and The Rhysling Award. She volunteers as an editorial consultant for Crab Creek Review and teaches at the MFA program at National University. When asked to name her favourite fruit, she replied, "the pomegranate; I love taking them apart! Plus, of course, the whole Persephone angle. Although mangoes run a close second."

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