Be thistle & briar & tigerlily
growing roadside. Be skunk or fox or coy-
wolf, sly enough for cities. God says don’t
look in the mirror to watch yourself cry,
don’t pretend you’re a sailor to kiss
other girls, don’t dawdle in the bathtub,
playing Melusine. Don’t say trauma when
you can tell ghost stories, & if you must
remember, do it silently. Fuck that—
be mouth, still talking when you’re told not to.
Be sly. Be poisonous & sharp. Behave
as if the night sky needed to hear secrets
to form the moon each month, & then unform it.
And you, inked & bound with secrets—what luck!
In the beginning, time works like a snake
born from the throat of a maid: spell of dry season, of hot-between-
the-thighs, spell of forked tongue & womb
where red embers wrap together, like hair around a finger.
An accident: lightning & amino acids,
dog-bark-tide-twist under a sky
of antique glass. Saltwatered, a fresh cell
opens its mouth. But nobody likes a tattle-tale.
Bedraggled, bearing a torch broken off
the lightning-struck spruce, she mixes the warm stormwaters of her mouth
with red clay, to paint her dream of aurochs. The spell works like that: it keeps
the world together by spit & clay & stolen fire.
The spell works like that: it twins the tongue, twines sea to sternum
crack. Undo its wrap, & it will always coil back
like well-spun flax. Let every spit-born daughter
try to tell it, turn it out of air. It will always rewind to the once upon.
Uncauldron me. Uncaulk the ship
my father sailed at summer camp. Uncurl
my mother’s hair. Somewhere primordial, the thaw
begins. There’s blood on the yolk of the moon.
Cassiopeia hangs in the midheaven, the Papesse sleeps
at the top of the deck, and my mother, in the kitchen,
ties back her hair to punch down
the bread. If you leave again, don’t bother coming back.
Tell about the sea: a heart, green & made for leaping.
Tell about the habits of lightning: how the whole house
would shake, trying to get the sound off its back.
About the stars: a road of ash we get to follow.
Unweave the linens. Undiscover fire, return
the lightning to the air. Be careful what you wish for,
coos Hesperus in the serrated west. We’ll go back,
west, someday, too. I can’t help myself. I choose it all again.
Sara Fetherolf (she/they) is the author of Via Combusta, winner of the 2021 New American Press Poetry Prize and forthcoming in October 2022. Their debut work of short fiction, “The Place” was the 2021 Iron Horse Long Story award winner, and their poems and essays have appeared in Muzzle, Radar, Indiana Review, The California Journal of Poetics and Plath Profiles, among others. She has an MFA degree from Hunter College and is currently a PhD candidate in Literature and Creative Writing at University of Southern California, where she is the poetry editor for Gold Line Press.