Back to Issue Eighteen.

the barn and the other girl


I could show you pictures of the other girl,
the one who sits quietly, cleans her room,
who doesn’t shoot heroine between her toes
or steal needles from the diabetic
neighbor lady. I’ve got pictures of her
on my iPad. Lean in. Let me tell you
a story: there’s a barn in Amherst County
the town left to rot, its blanched planks
the flanks of every old woman you can’t
picture naked and drunk in the glory
of her youth, radical hope her hurt seems
so inflammatory your mind pukes to
think of her that way, like a rotund artist
with her kitty-cat handle and landscapes.
The barn must’ve been something great—
it’s ceiling like a whale’s beached and vaulted
carcass, its slanted stalls, still filled with hay
where the thunder horses did their stamping,
and oddest of all, a room full of desks,
maybe where the threshing was done, whatever
that is, all lined up, facing the same way
as if in some rustic classroom where she,
the girl you could’ve been, learned about space,
and I’m talking the pyrotechnic cosmos.
It’s a sobering scene, to think what was
and what could’ve been. So picture this barn—
from first blush at farmer’s touch to storage
for some bland girls’ college—see the chairs,
filing cabinets, old pull-down projection screens,
the warp and woof of education, chalk
spiders and the iridescent beetles
we once called slides, those thumb-sized, concrete
renditions of the ephemera we
decided to pin down and miniaturize.
Walk among her disintegrating views
on circumference, France, and jazz then pause
to remember her goodness, how it ended
as suddenly as print news, the twisted wood,
the door-less openings onto pitiless rooms
whose original purposes we can’t see
for our own wickedness. Look and despair
oh you mighty, drug-addled and unloved
daughter of the beloved community,
so wanted you were first to come and first
to sit quietly in the Quaker meeting,
your hands shaking from the silence, needing
to speak, to say something for Christ’s sake, please.

Lesley Jenike‘s poems have appeared in Poetry, The Southern Review, The Gettysburg Review, Rattle, Smartish Pace, Gulf Coast, Waxwing, Passages North, and many other journals. Her most recent collection Holy Island was published by Gold Wake Press in 2014 and her chapbook Punctum was the 2015 winner of Kent State’s Wick Chapbook Prize. She teaches at the Columbus College of Art and Design in Columbus, Ohio.

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