To you, I was always “Bob’s bastard,”
A reminder that someone touched her before you.
My body remembers your grease-stained, gnarled fists
smashing my pink flesh to bone.
My body remembers your steel-toed shoes
ploughing into my belly and back.
Sometimes mom begged you to stop.
Sometimes she sobbed, immobile.
Sometimes she looked away.
Though you’ve been dead for years,
You live here now.
Imprisoned in the body of the girl you despised.
Years ago—it was many lives ago—I worked nights in Manhattan. Some people call that grave shifting or paying dues. Others call it chasing the light.
To stay awake I used to buy coffee at Smilers, the deli on 7th Ave in the Village. Usually around 3 am.
Every night on a crate in front of Smilers sat an old black man. White hair, blind. I think he was mildly autistic. He rocked back and forth endlessly. Like Ray Charles caught in the groove. Next to the crate was a boom box, and a simple handwritten sign: Please. Continue reading
Often at night,
when the sky seems as close as it does now,
and the trees tense up
as if knowing the clouds will soon break,
and the light’s an eerie shade of gray,
You limp the way a stream
will soothe a single rock
and along the bottom
remembers this path
as darkness and dry leaves
though you don’t look down
–you hear it’s raining :the hush
not right now but at night
these cinders float to the surface
keep one foot swollen, the other
has so little and for a long time now
the listening in secret.
The alarm went off and we found that the world
hadn’t ended, that all the ramblings of the church elders
weren’t true. My husband sighed and rolled out of bed
found there were only dirty clothes left for him to wear
sighed again, dressed, went to work.
I could hear birds chirping in the yard
a squirrel on the roof, cars
passing on the road out front.
I held onto my dreams of apocalypse
for a few moments longer, savoring visions
of the angels, the devastation
that could still be waiting just outside the door.
when I was pregnant, all of my dreams
were about snakes. as much as I tried
to dream only about baby kittens, baby puppies
human babies, my nights would be filled
with twisting pythons gathered in knots
inside me, their slick skin undulating
in the dark, pushing and bumping as if
trying to find a way out.
friends without children would ask me
what it was like to be pregnant and I’d
have to lie. I was so worried that
imagining the baby inside me was a coiled serpent
in my stomach
meant that I was already a bad mother
meant something was wrong with my baby.
“It’s like being a butterfly house, ” I’d say instead.
“I’m all full of fluttering butterflies.” I’d put his or her hand
on my straining stomach as I spoke, whispering
“Can you feel them move? Can you feel it?
Isn’t it wonderful?”
We wait for the bombs to feel us out
pass the potatoes, say grace over the odd angels
that have watched over us for years
through the stained-glass windows of old churches
through the eyes of Orthodox iconography. This is a moment of peace
that will never come again.
Through the windows, the strength of distant concussions
fold trees in half, take grain silos and snap power lines.
We turn up the gas, clear the dinner table
I put a knife in your hand, just in case.
The sky grows as dark as if seen through closed eyes
windows shake and fly apart. Hands
over their eyes, I stretch out next to the children
tell them it’s just the sound of His voice, there’s nothing
to be afraid of, it’ll all work out in the end.
the soldiers didn’t seem to care
that the hotel we were staying in
was haunted. they didn’t seem even a little interested
when we told them chairs were moving all by themselves
that we could hear voices whispering in the bathroom pipes
that the clocks had all stopped exactly at midnight.
the people in the streets outside
didn’t seem to care either, seemed more concerned with
pushing back against the soldiers, standing ground
in front of their own crumbling, possibly haunted hovels
seemed more annoyed than anything when we
said we needed to find another place to stay.
Holly Day’s poetry has recently appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, Grain, and Harvard Review. Her newest poetry collections are Where We Went Wrong (Clare Songbirds Publishing), Into the Cracks (Golden Antelope Press), Cross Referencing a Book of Summer (Silver Bow Publishing), and The Tooth is the Largest Organ in the Human Body (Anaphora Literary Press).
Review by Tess Tabak
Peng Shepherd’s Book of M is a tour de force, a grim-yet-hopeful speculative fiction novel with many parallels for the current coronavirus pandemic. The characters in the book grapple with their own mysterious pandemic: a wave of people throughout the globe suddenly begin losing their shadows, and no one understands why. With the loss of a shadow inevitably comes total memory loss.
The book covers vast material in its 485 pages – the book takes place over the course of about two years – but it centers on a relatively small cast of characters. The central figures include a couple, Max and Ory, who have been living in hiding together at a resort since the start of the pandemic. There is also an amnesiac, who suffered complete retrograde amnesia shortly before the pandemic struck, and who may be key to finding a cure.
More than just losing their memory, something far stranger happens to the victims of the Forgetting. They become imbued with magical powers. If they forget something, whatever they imagine in its place becomes reality. A wife who forgets her husband may cause him to disappear, for example. Shepherd deliberately keeps the scope of the supernatural powers vague throughout the course of the book. While there is some amount of internal logic, the “rules” of the magic is not the focus here. Rather we’re intimately following the aftermath for our characters, the pain and emotional anguish of watching their loved ones forget who they are, or knowing that you’re being stripped of everything that makes you who you are. Continue reading
Ever since I was small, I’ve always imagined myself somewhere else when I go to sleep. Someplace outdoors, usually, someplace wild, a rainforest or a mountainside or an island off a rocky coast. I’ll be traveling, escaping something maybe, and I’ll have found or made some kind of shelter. Rain or snow or wind will be battering it, but I’ll be warm and protected.
Of course, I knew when I ran away from home that it wouldn’t be like that, and it wasn’t. I slept in a tent pitched under a leaning redwood stump in a canyon north of Mendocino, less than twenty-five miles from home. It was summer, so there was no snow or rain, but every morning and most afternoons there was cold fog that couldn’t be kept out. My feet felt like blocks of wood. Banana slugs clung to the outside of the tent. Spiders found their way into my sleeping bag. I was living on apple juice, peanut butter, and raisin bread.
I spent too much time thinking. About my mother’s suicide, about who should or shouldn’t have done or said what, about how it played out in parallel universes. We’d all seen it coming, my father and my brother and I. She’d been depressed, delusional, obsessive for years. But (as I saw it that summer, anyhow) I was the only one who felt guilty about it, who thought there was something more we could have done. My father seemed fatalistic about it, my brother downright nonchalant. That was what had driven me out of the house, that one last feeble protest I felt I had to make. Continue reading