SheĎs setting fires along the windowsills, the backside of her teeth predicting three inches of rain. Accuracy in her incisors, bleeding into the milk. The day is scarred, river licked. Her buttons in the shape of rabbits. Her openings in the shape of boats . Her sisters limp home under lantern light while Odelia pulls a ribbon from her mouth, bright red. The trick is distance. The trick is diminishment. The blind men in the kitchen make vague gestures toward the seeded fields, the sky bisected by silos. She takes to burning the curtains after a fashion, the linens filthy against their beds.
In the train station in Blair, a dark-haired woman hides a tiny ladder beneath her tongue. Smiles. She has the voiceof your mother, but smells like bromide and lavender. Has the voice of a woman tucking ghosts under the thin covers of her bed. Later, in the diner, the tables cracked formica, a waitress will lift her skirt for you behind a wreckage of dirty dishes. Her eyes blurry and starless. They say she drowned three babies in the tub, newborn. Tiny gilled things, small as a fist. She smells like gasoline and splintered fences. Thereís nothing you can say to her that doesnít sound like breaking.
I have gone out, rubies in my mouth, mapping the backs of men. The pale inside of their wrists. The horses can smell it on me, this fear of the dead. The drowned. The misaligned. I burn a circle in the grass to ward off the magician. His sad trail of red scarves, his pockets full of cards. Iíve discovered several children beneath my dresses. All of them practicing pleats and dreaming pencils. I teach them to whistle and hold water in their throats like plastic birds. I íve unraveled every god like linen. A seam opens and the murder falls out.
Itís all in the wrist, the dumb luck. The dark room with its fidgeting women. They make a noise like a slipping. A noise like a sway. The milk goes wicked on the counter, while the preacher takes her hands and places them against his chest. The rapture of barrettes and clothespins, all that fastening, two and two together. If she could only sew herself into god like a button, stitch the gospel into the hems of her dresses. Her daughters like one door after another, opening to trapdoors and violins.
The bones of the ear are like an open purse a bottle, a lantern going out . A suitcase floats on the bank of the river, empty except for a shot glass and a womanís red heel. I am confused by windows, bridges, pinning my hands against the railings and making nice with the starving dogs. Iíve been counting to one-hundred at the base of the bathtub, a little further each day. Your motherís curtains are impossible, luminous. Her pink chandeliers and trick birds. All summer, I scrape sunburned skin against the coverlet, twirl sparkers in my teeth., shut my eyes and spin.
She begins with tiny spoons and screws. Swallows safety pins and penny nails by the dozen. Paperclips, thumbtacks, salt shaker tops. The doctors say its dire, prescribe lithium and fresh air. Her mother cries and brings cake. Last week, they pulled a watch from her stomach, still ticking. Wrapped her tight in white, wet sheets until her skin grew soft, amphibious. Every morning is clear and bright. Every morning she spits dimes into the sink. Her nightgowns, drafty, ravaged by openings. After all, a girl has too many holes as it is. Things are bound to fall through once in a while.
On the way to town, night happened. On the way to night, the dayís thin postcard. When you placed the matches on the edge of the nightstand, a thousand heretics took to flame in some sad little hamlet we wonít speak of. My mouth is door, opening and closing, I build pyres out of toothpicks on the dresser, wait for the buckets of water youíll bring after weíve torched every sinner and bound them in twine.
In the curve of my ear, Desdemona leaks, murderous. Blood in the trees and a figure eight bruised on my forearm. Iíve named my daughters obscure, resevoir, bitterweed. Keep them hidden beneath the porch, feeling out the darkness as if it were an object. Itís my second language, this underwater moaning, my hands sewn tight together and the dresser plumb with window where nightly we all escape, silver scars tracing our wrists. We drown in yards and yards of blue tulle, fall in and out of focus, my tongue a trinket. A ring in a plastic bubble. I travel under the guise of refraction. No one is the wiser.
Hers is a soft kind of falling. with mattresses stacked against the baseboards and buttered toast cooling on the table. There is only one ghost in this photograph, but sometimes thereís a woman inside a wooden horse, awkwardly knocking and countingthe stripes on your blouse. The towns all have names like girls, and the girls almost always named after flowers. You canít swing a stick without hitting a Rose or a Violet. Yesterday, a Lily spilling a bucket of rainwater into a trough the size of a chevy. She hangs nylons from the shower rail and leans provocatively over and ironing board. Sometimes, there is lightning.
Itís all glass eyes and glued feathers, canned song leaking from the speakers and the up the stairs to where we sleep. By definition, my mother has beautiful hands. By definition, an excellent range of octaves, humming from the room under the stairs. Her washcloths taste clean and damp and faintly like soap. Our zippers go up and down without snagging. My sister breaks a parakeet that unravels in her hands like a spool of twine. The song is a trick of logic, of the ear, We wrap it in a yellow dishtowel and pray for a shovel.
In the story in which Amelia is transformed into a dozens birds, day arrives like a rustling in the mailbox. A chalky, soft bodied sighing. Dressing her we are seized by the mechanics of it, counterweights shifting, clamoring against her spine. Her pronouns are off for days. She becomes you becomes it. We make a hole in the house big enough for whatever arrives still breathing, torn open. The irony is in the stitches we use to make things whole again. The damage that touches the wires touching.
In town, a man offers her a fistful of keys and places her hand against his cheek . Yellow curtains are everywhere now, sad in their houses and brushing the sill in the diner. The history of her limbs is a lacing in and out of things pins and car crashes. Tea bags and clotheslines. In the pool hall, the boys know the inside of her mouth by touch. She opens their bodies one after another in the dark. Searches for whatever she can strike a match against. Her arms at right angles to the fence.
the devil and the dressmaker I still know all the words for grace, the spreading of thighs and motel curtains. Five and five and bus rides. Under the canopy of my arms, there is a sort of black water, a rowboat worn down at the bottom. The mannequin in the window wears satin and blue feathers. My botched burlesque. My vague fevers. In the twin bed at home. my mother wears a dirty slip and cries into her thighs. I love the fine, fine bruises beneath my cotton dress. My sorry lot, my bad, bad daddy. Thereís a poker chip in the sugar bowl, razors in the button jar. No electricity in the bedroom where the shotgun rests against the wall. I still know the words for cut and sing. For pin and stick, and nights like these, for dig.