by JoSelle Vanderhooft
When I was twelve you hit me in the mouth
with a sock full of pennies for the theft of a sou.
I remember your legs, tall and striped,
Doric columns in their threadbare breeches
as I crouched on the floor in a puddle of rubies,
shocked at the tiny pearl buried in oyster lips
worry-chapped from hunger. Overhead your wolf-voice snarled
its seven thousand words for "gold" as you counted out my teeth --
two babies on the floor.
I remember, I remember the strangest things
as if they happened a heart's breath before now.
Yet, I can't recall your face as I begged, bent-kneed like the pauper I was.
I wanted a ribbon from the tinker's cart.
A single red ribbon; a herald-rose to offset the winter of my too-tight frock,
my concave stomacher
the starvation of my wheat-bleached hair
("White gold," you once laughed through your fingertips).
And you, your legs,
stained with dust and ancient, embalmed sex
stood like heaven's pillars, unmoved at my condition.
"Clean yourself up," you said as if god spoke
"or you'll never marry."
(you really meant, "you will not escape")
"And if you want your precious ribbon so,
then eat it."
Your rough hand on my neck, and it was down.
My stomach closed up like a flower
to vomit it back up 'til I could not feel
how deeply I bled for you, Father.
I remember the strangest things
and each of them are you
vivisected like piles of hard diamonds
beneath a jeweler's lens.
I divide them with my bleeding nails into
cause and effect, by color and shape
flaws bigger than the cracks in our floorboards upon which you counted
rubies and rubles in the rubble until dawn seeped in
a shower of platinum
over you, a giant with money bags for fists
and I, a poor man's Danae crouched in the corner.
Your laughter spilled from your lips like hot gold
into the treasure box you kept close in the fortress of your knees.
By day it would lie buried in our garden,
among the overgrown hydrangea and mother's roses, black
like the veil I could never unwrap from my heart
for you had neglected them to death.
You saw me and looked up, annoyed I think
that you could not put the sunlight on my hair into your box and close it up.
"Thieves are everywhere,"
you said, touching my throat; a warning
"You should mind your own treasure box, my girl."
Nervous, I said "yes" and closed my legs.
I knew my place. I never again pinched your pennies
to purchase secret girl things now you'd pulled my ribbon off.
Comfits, dolls and rouge,
bottled lavender and rose;
These, these I did without,
preferring a day without the sound of your voice
to batting heavy eyelids at the men
from my velvet carriage seat. But he, but he --
these things Valere did not require, he said
only my body, which when divested of its threadbare gown
reminded him of Leda's. And he --
his kisses fell like seeds, not like your fists.
And when he yelled at me, I knew he only meant
He hated your white porcelain hands
That shook me by the throat, not me, not I --
I smiled the day he stole your treasure box
and held my waist with one hand,
the other on the rusty handle.
You looked as dead as I felt;
little man of dust and falling plaster,
chapped lips trembling as your red-rimmed eyes
looked from one treasure to the other. I thought,
"Why did I fear a scarecrow so?"
You said you'd take your gold and the box
was in my hand. (Valere said I could return it).
We stood in the center of your living room
like men in the movies, trading one hostage for another. Only
when you approached, I disobeyed.
I smiled at you and hit you in the mouth
with the rusty edge, and as you fell
bleeding rotten teeth; a pantaloon rag doll
I thought that you had broken, but you stayed down.
I couldn't even bring myself to spit,
so we left without a word,
the door echoing in your empty house.
Sometimes, alone, I think then you sighed once,
before burying your face in your gold-plated undoing.
I remember, I remember the strangest things,
but not the clotting of the honey, the souring of milk.
And certainly, certainly not the day I realized
his hands upon my stomach were diamond ice,
his face obscured by pearl white fangs.
It was so slow, rain filling up a river.
A frown for the luxury of my new skirts,
a shoulder bone jackknifed against the door
as I powdered my over-ripe honeydew breasts
while searching the mirror for someone I had lost
not these pounds of flesh we have become.
I remember last night
as you rocked over me, your hands pierced deep
covering my shoulders in long red ribbons of life
As you fill me with --
You say, it is my fault.
There are children now, Elise.
Don't be a fool.
I am taxed, do you know how they tax me?
We have a house,
A second mortgage
and yet you still –-
I put that dress upon your back, Elise!
The pearls in your hair, the smile on your --
Look at me
Look at me
Look at me god damn you!
And I look.
Through your eyes into the back of your skull as you thrust deep
spilling your silver and pearls into your treasure box.
I know my place.
Mouth poised between
your name and seven thousand names for death
I stroke your hair and wait to be closed up
beneath the garden wall again.
's poetry and short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Jabberwocky, Mythic, Aoife's Kiss, Star*line, Not One of Us
and others. Her first novel, The Tale of the Miller's Daughter
, was released in June, 2006 by Papaveria Press
. Her second novel, Owl Skin
, will be released in early 2007, also from Papaveria. She is also the editor of the forthcoming anthology Tiresias Revisited: Magical Tales for Transfolk
from Lethe Press. She lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, where she works as the assistant editor of a small newspaper.
If she were fortunate enough to be chosen by a Mask, the Mask in question would likely be a relic from the days of Sophocles, a visage of Electra made from wood and paint.
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