Art by Kirsten Hemrich
Last night I dreamt we were married, our children sprinkled through the yard
like tulips. I know you don’t believe in people creating other people, but my mother
was so hard on me; I want to make a child to wrap in cashmere, kiss
their stomach, bathe in pearls. To your parents you were a rock
skipped across a lake, a wish that bloomed into a boy smooth as a banister, tender
as clay. To my mother I will always be slightly too rounded, too sinkable.
Remember the summer I spent working in the hospital, catching babies
as they rang into the room like bells? Their bodies were prayers
in my hands, warm lives still blue at the corners as I lifted them
to their mother’s chests to cut each free of the other. To see a child
curled and cradled so was a sort of beating for me, a folding and unfolding of
the hollowness that drums in my throat when I think of my mother, how she almost
ripped me from her, and how I was pregnant once, too, and the child ripped itself
from me, introducing itself through death. Did it know? Did my mother
sing through my blood like a siren, lure the thing to slip
down my body’s soft tunnels and into the world as a small red stain?
What kind of stone will I be to my children? Will I drag them
to the bottom of the lake?
I shaved my head on a Friday, seven days
after I said stop
and was stifled by tongue.
My mother says
I am too feminist— she doesn’t know about
his fingers, believes I want only to steal
the eyes of rooms and the words
of strangers. Baby girl, she says,
you were so beautiful.
We drive to the orchard,
pull velvet globes from
branches. My eyes follow
the plucking — my mother’s teeth
splitting furred flesh, stretching
it, bleeding its sweet. It startles
me, this death — though
noosed from birth, mouths
are their ending.
My friends say I am so brave —
they take pictures of the sun
melting on my skull. Walking home
from the bar I feel safe, like a boy —
I can vomit alone now. I can open
my apartment door, fold to knees
and then elbows, press my cheek
to the carpet’s dust. My fingers
stroking the down above my ears,
I can call my mother, and desperate,
whisper I needed to feel
the parts of me that no one touched.
Self-Portrait with the Dining Room Table
A glaring rectangle - four sides,
four chairs, three full.
It sleeps there, crooked,
in the dining room. I hit my head
on its edge when I was three,
running toward a man’s silhouette,
light streaming in through the door
he was pulling behind him.
Year after year in that house made of brick,
my sister sat across from me.
We would wag our holly tongues like dogs
as our mother bowed her head in prayer.
Our bodies a trinity,
fatherless and feminine.
The last year I believed in the tooth fairy,
I had dinner at a friend’s house.
Her family’s table could barely hold five.
We sat in a crowded patchwork of chairs,
our elbows touching.
The tablecloth fluttered
by the open window.
Days later, our mother drove us
to the town where we were born, chiding us
when we drew faces on the fogged windows.
So instead we created stories
about the passing passengers,
colouring them in with names and homes
and things that made them happy.
We arrived at noon, stepping
onto a porch littered with his projects –
a broken record player, a charcoal portrait
of his face overlaid with an owl’s.
We knocked twice, and waited.
I looked into his dining room,
and the table, covered in ragged canvases and cigarettes,
had one wooden chair that leaned.
I could see my eyes looking back at me,
the window closed.
By Chloë Ester K. Cook
Chloë Ester K. Cook, a Charlottesville native, graduated from the University of Virginia in 2018 with a degree in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. She is currently taking one of two gap years to allow for the pursuit of her passions, which include songwriting, road cycling, and poetry. Her debut album, Linen, will be released in April 2019, and she is currently finishing her manuscript of poems dwelling on trauma, loss, love, and its absence.