While Cutting Faces Out of Photos from the Mid-90s
Center, off right:
Girl 1: Dry rot.
Your legs were so thin, everyone called you gazelle. What a wild word for hunger. You could have been a ballerina. You didn’t fit inside your body, so worried about becoming smaller (even down to the size of your hands). Black moons under fingernails, black tights full of holes. Buck-toothed, decaying. You were the raggediest dancer of all.
Girl 2: Stretched too thin
The robin's egg rug was stamped to fiber by bare feet. Feet that grew too fast. Everyone called you impatient. Even before you were born you were growling, rattling your mother's ribs with tiny fists like they were mallets and she was music. Your shoes were always a size too small. You liked to hide under that rug. The blue one in our bedroom. Beaten down to nothing but a harp of white thread.
A toothless moon on 43
somebody is crying, sirens
in the city. I saw the color of your eyes. I saw you,
kneeling in the brambles, sewer-rot
painted on your ankles, all tooth and skin and razorblade
like the jack knife I’ll use to cut out my tongue
if they come for you, if they ask
where you’ve been hiding.
Everything splinters. This is a place
where the dead creak in trees, where their white eyes
follow the ones who howl—their cold,
indigo blood. This is my famine—you,
crouching in alleyways, broken bottles
(God was in the bottles). Smack
on black tongue, canines slowly turning brown. We rot like yellowed pumpkins. We shoot
until the barrel jams.
Kathryn Merwin’s poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in journals such as