Begin with a man match that grows into a girl
when struck. Oval flame. Face like her father's
with eyes that do not startle. A seething
center blue hot as the girl I found
beneath the surface when I shed my skin
that nineteenth year.
When I said I will have no more
of this: dreams of my grandfather touching
my mother in a secret room behind
the radiator grate.
I stripped off that stained
dress and began a bestiary.
Not every snakehead
was a man's fist needing to be
severed from its neck.
Not every finger
will be unwanted.
But a worm moon swells
in the corner of my bed, and I love the smell
of a nightmare coming on. A boy who knows when
to press the giving walls
of my throat. I still hear the howling
house, remember the baby
dolls my grandmother hid beneath
the steps my father sawed.
It was from that back porch that I threw
my grandfather's favorite cat just to see
how she would land. Afterward, he twisted
my elbow behind my body and brought
his teeth next to my ear.
I don't remember what he whispered
but when I was twelve his aorta
crawled from his chest as if summoned.
The rope was finally freed
from the well of bowered water,
the bone bucket left to sink.
The years of the next decade scatter
like my mother's hens when the neighbor's dog
got loose and killed as many as it could
before they hid on top of the coop.
I still picture her standing in the aftermath
picking up bloody feathers as if
she's collecting talismans.
Caitlin Scarano is a poet in the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee PhD creative writing program. She was a finalist for the 2014 Best of the Net anthology and the winner of the 2015 Indiana Review Poetry Prize, judged by Eduardo Corral. She has two poetry chapbooks: The White Dog Year (dancing girl press, 2015) and The Salt and Shadow Coiled (Zoo Cake Press, 2015). Her recent work can be found in Granta, Crazyhorse, and Colorado Review.