Back to Issue Twenty-Six.

the experiment



The first time we collected hen of the woods,
I wondered if they would kill me. No reply.

They were delicious, bright as hunter’s caps,
squeaky meat. How long does it take, I thought

at each sponge-full. I thought, had my nails
turned blue? I was scared by my child. I was left

by his father. Left over and over in the way
men leave before leaving, each affair a little

practice, each abuse a little closer out the door
to I can’t … But I could. For a long time. There is a theory

that pain carries down from generations. Trauma
will out. A scientist I knew shook

pregnant mice in a tube, then measured
how, months later, the babies ran. This was a boy

who loved boys and also me. He photographed
me smoking a cigar. I wish I had that shot.

He told me he was afraid of men, but later,
married one. Sometimes I think what happened to us

didn’t really happen to us. Not to our bones,
but to our blood. Now my lover knows

the dog breathing, my wild mud pupils
that relax in the spring trap of a hand,

brows like a hill road. My body is a doorway
through which pain may pass. My blood holds

the mothers, all of the girls of the yard, girls
of the trees, girls of the closed doors. Girls in jail.

The experiment was to traumatize the mothers.
The trees had no answer. The world

held no reference. I ate to find out would I die.






It was here I saw my first murder.
It was here I hit a bird with my car,

one of the hundreds in the fields,
their wings folded like tulips.

The crows in the corn took off together—
and then they were only ink clouds,

some chattering in the branches
in the woods where the men hunt.

It was here the man I loved left me.
I asked for a token, and he emptied

out his hands: no ring, no white
dress, no child—but a blade of straw,

bleached, broken-off. I put it
in my eye. In time, my iris

knitted a scar, a flash across the cornea,
a blurring in the corner, always

out of reach, a way of weeping, a way
to remember him all of my days.



Safe House



Because I could not keep you safe,
I’m on my stomach, a willow finger

blistering my back. Because I wasn’t
born yet, there will be jangles wherever

I walk, and a leather line lead me.
Cold bullet center me. The houses

by the river welcomed you with sticks.
My mother and her sisters swept out

the pig sheds. I broke through a hedge
at cul-de-sacs end. The houses you hid in

were abandoned, wallpaper rot
from the river out the door. I almost

walked into that world upside down:
the broom-skirted trees, the water

clear as hair. Could I live there? Did I
want to live? The cops had my diary.

I never saw that man again. If there were
steps into death, I would have

taken them. But there were not steps.
The houses by the river and the ones

in the woods burned. Upstairs
was for couples. Downstairs: bottles

and black stubs. You slept there,
but it was not safe. We played cards

and played at kissing, but it was not
safe. Someone started a fire. Somebody

told. My mother and her sisters waited
for the meat trucks, believing each rattle

meant escape. The missile-headed
cattails. The popcorn fields.

In the woven belly of willows
I am safe. In the hot air balloon basket.

In the tree house the tornado will take.
In the deer beds, unmade by morning.

In the nesting of closets. In the sickest
thing. In the thing I say.

In the cage of our arms, we build
a safe house. No closed doors,

no locks. At home in the animals,
licked bleeding or bitter.

All I know is your eyes are sweaters.
All I know is slave or queen. You take on

the bees, snap an arm off a willow—
and in the other hand hold

purple phlox you have picked me.
Once you whipped yourself raw

to know what it felt like for me. It is snowing
from the rafters. We have an audience

of pigeons. And the men will take their time.

Alison Stine is the author of two full-length books of poems, Wait (University of Wisconsin Press, 2011), which won the Brittingham Prize, and Ohio Violence (University of North Texas, 2009), winner of the Vassar Miller Prize. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, the Nation, the Paris Review, the Rumpus, and elsewhere, and her essays have appeared in the Atlantic, the Toast, theGuardian, and the Kenyon Review. She has received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Wallace Stegner Fellowship, and the Ruth Lilly Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation. She lives in Appalachia with her son.

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