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Sometimes, when I wake
after a sheet-kinked night
of tornado dreams and the boy’s
crib-cries and dark hollers,
I spin out a thin gold thread
of memory and run down it,
reckless, into other days.
Once, in a red-rocked desert,
the sun burned away everything
but the cacti and small quail.
Once, in Missouri, cherry tomatoes
grew like tart miracles.
Once, below a tower in Siena,
all of Italy glowed hot and green.
Once, a white horse named Kabar
threw me into soft dirt and taught
the lift and gloat of survival.
Once, I curled on a red couch
and watched the brown funnel
come for Dorothy; the thrill
lived in my throat for days.
Once, I slept inside haunted hours,
menace of my own inventing,
my parents’ worried voices
humming through the vents.
And then despite my running, 
I’m back where I started:
funnel cloud, a child frightened
of nothing. No one can say
to any of us, It isn’t real.
What’s real is the landscape
of the mind: sunbaked or rising
with mist, a forest in which you’ll
wander forever, or a forest
in which you’ll make your home,
wooden cabin in dappled light,
where you’ll make peace
with both the slim-necked deer
and the screech owl who comes
most nights, whose voice
shakes the pines and who
you can know as another animal,
something wild, if not to love,
then to live alongside.


Imaginary Vacation Scenario #3

Here, your skin shadow-laced by palm leaves,
the Caribbean softly gossiping at your feet,
it has never occurred to you to fret

over SPF or UVB, parabens or phthalates.
You never consider the clogging qualities
of the butter on your lobster. When the sun

sinks into your body, you know with certainty
that the entire world is still—no mothers weeping,
no caught dolphins keening, no tornadoes

touching down in a roar of chaos. Everything
is green and still and good, because your body
says it is. By the bar that sells rum-and-creams,

there’s a butterfly bush. Its winged denizens
look like small pieces of drifting sun.
That makes sense here: the laws of the universe

bend to allow for maximum bliss, and so
the air will never fog, the highway will never
be a highway, the cosmos might drop down

to halo you with sun-moths even as
you read your Glamour, even as you buy
another rum-and-cream. Later, gliding

just below the warm water’s glinting surface,
you see a stingray loft off the coral-
strewn bottom. You see its poison tail,

but you know it won’t come near you.
It leaves a rainbow of sand-float
in its wake. Here, the laws of the universe

bend away from reality and into perfect
sense: the stingray, being beautiful,
could never hurt anyone.


Ocean Block

Screams carry lightly on the breeze
from the Sea Dragon, the Paratrooper,

the Tubs-O-Fun. People in bright shirts
shriek and cling. My son in his stroller

is singing the alphabet, pointing out
fire hydrants and number nines.

I am willing myself to stay here
under the hot blue sky of June

instead of wandering again
into the dark hedgerows of worry.

In the dune grass is a mostly-gone cup
of chocolate ice cream melted

to a soup. The ants have drowned
themselves in the sweetness,

because what else can they do?



The lemon-and-new-shoe odor of the clean linoleum.
Your footsteps echoing against the walls
that weren’t your home. How you dreaded recess,
where children shrieked and skinned their knees raw.
The treachery of the milk carton, its mouth that refused
to pucker. The day you made a birthday crown
for your teacher, asked her age for the gold numbers,
and she snapped, “A lady never tells.”
Another lesson, like alphabetical order. That year
you adopted a red maple, trunk no wider than you,
and learned deciduous, photosynthesis. Your front teeth
knocked out in a wall-ball collision. Your mother taught you
pig Latin on the way to the dentist, your new blue dress
blood-soaked. Near Christmas, your teacher made you
try red Jello and you threw up all night. But you also
made a paper stocking—stitched with green yarn,
its symmetry perfect—and the warmth you felt for it
swelled you the entire bus ride home.

How did you do it? How did you learn in one year
that plants eat light and that the plural of sheep
is sheep and that when you cut a worm in half,
you can watch its split body squirm away from itself,
how did you hold all of that while also the sky was starting
to take on a personality—benevolent on blue days,
aloof on gray—and you were finding that certain
Elvis songs made your insides pull taut in a way
that felt like an hour before dinner, and you found
a naked red bird on the sidewalk and gave it in a shoebox
to your kind neighbor to nurse back to health but
it died anyway, two days later—how did you do it?

And now, here, decades into the fast future, here
with your knowledge of statistics and research
and Experts in the Field—do you feel any calmer, any less
like the sky could unfold at any moment and reveal more
hitherto unconsidered possibilities? Even now
can you believe zeppelins, anglerfish, all the people
you love who are every day out in the fracturing?
When you hear “It’s Now or Never” on the radio,
don’t you still sometimes pull over and sit there
on a side street of some neighborhood, clutching
the steering wheel and wondering when everything
will finally, finally settle into that storied equanimity
you’ve never been able to enter? You know it exists.
You’ve glimpsed it, in the glint of planets
in the winter sky, in the cracked leather spines
of old books you page through gingerly, tenderly,
but somehow can’t bring yourself to read.  


Catherine Pierce is the author of The Girls of Peculiar (Saturnalia 2012) and Famous Last Words (Saturnalia 2008). Recent poems have appeared in Best American Poetry, Slate, Boston Review, Ploughshares, Blackbird, FIELD, and elsewhere. She is an associate professor at Mississippi State University, where she co-directs the creative writing program.