There is this place you can land —another country without sunrise or sunset, without dreams or cigarettes or pets. Only a few can cross over and see you there. They hope they can bring you back—of course they don’t know—or they hope they will never visit you again—at least not there. No one wants to see you like that.
You don’t tell them how you aged one hundred years in a single night when you tried to give up your narrative, that story with no heart, the house full of empty rooms, the windows swollen shut, the scent of lemon Endust and loneliness, a freckled girl you never liked, a mind you lost her inside—and anyone else who came close.
How afterwards, your soul rose like a limp balloon, shaking its gray head as it drifted above. For weeks, it could not reach you. Or you, it. Though it wished you things: hope, a song, a memory of a doll you slept with as a child before you plucked out its eyes. And made its face into a soft, smooth pillow.
The Girl Dreams of the Boy Next Door
First, she’s a girl with no breasts, cropped yellow hair and freckled legs. Then she turns twelve, or maybe thirteen. And the boy, who is fifteen, is staring at her breasts, as small as plums, but rising with her every breath. “Race you up the tree!” she says, and he watches her freckled legs shinny up and up. “Climb with me,” she says, but he shakes his head. Caterpillars are crawling up the tree, making filmy nests in the leaves. A caterpillar is crawling up her leg, too. She watches it inching along, then sees a rust colored smear on her inner thigh and feels stickiness between her legs. When she looks at the boy again, he is running away. “Scaredy cat,” she calls after him.
That night the girl dreams the caterpillars are in her bed, crawling up her nude legs, belly, breasts. She watches them cover her in silk until she is all rolled up in a misty web. She struggles at first, trying to move her arms, feet, lips. Strand by strand, the caterpillars tie her down as she grows round and soft and wet. The boy stares up at her. “Stop! Please stop!” she tries to scream, but no words come out. The caterpillars crawl over and over her every inch, feeding on the droplets of juice and sweat she emits, until all at once, their bodies break open and fly away on pale speckled wings the color of her skin, on yellow wings the color of her hair, and scarlet wings the color of her blood—so many wings, fluttering and sighing and swooping in the night.
My mother liked to brag that her children were stronger than our suburban classmates. Just as her Ayrshire heifers were superior to the Herefords on neighboring farms. “We come from hardy stock,” she said. Never mind that I suffered from frequent flus, sore throats, night sweats, hallucinations, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, mumps, measles, chicken pox and some unidentified illness that kept me home from school for weeks at a time. Or that I was “a bit accident prone,” as she put it. I was stung by swarms of bees, bitten by dogs, scratched by cats, bucked from horses, butted by a bull, and one day I was found unconscious on the side of the road by a truck driver who delivered me and my bicycle to the hospital. That afternoon, a doctor called my father and reported that an unidentified girl had been hit by a car and was out cold in the ER. Was he, by any chance, missing a daughter? “Of course, it was you,” my mother said, adding that even in sleep, I wasn’t safe. I fell out of bed one night and knocked out my front teeth. My father brought me a bag of frozen peas, wrapped in an old dishcloth and said, “Bite on this until the bleeding stops.” The peas got loose and rolled around my head and neck. I remember the taste of the blood and dishwater. And the peas, like the tips of icy fingers, pressing into my cheeks.
They were my father’s favorite—with craters of butter, and sometimes a dollop of sour cream. It was the way he ate them I remember, his whole body bent over, his face close to the plate like his boxer at the dog bowl. My mother watched and then didn’t watch, her eyes glazing into the distance that was always there between them like a sacred room no one entered. I pictured it as one of those paperweights full of snow—a tiny foreign land where princes and princesses fell asleep in fairy tales but never woke. No one ever kissed or rescued them. There was no waking up in our childhood home—only the dirty glossy surface of something that once must have looked like hope.
Nin Andrews’s poems have appeared in many literary journals and anthologies including Ploughshares, Agni, The Paris Review, and four editions of Best American Poetry. She is the author of 7 chapbooks and 6 full-length poetry collections. Her next book, The Last Orgasm, was due from Etruscan Press in October 2020.