Metal signage. Where we can only eat three catches per year. Mercury sneaks in through the soil. Dig a hole & another hole & another until we’ve got ourselves a trench. Our black dog named Tucker I found there. Sometimes my father is impatient clipping Tucker’s nails, he quicks him with the cutters & Tucker limps away to whimper in the yard. I’m big enough & steady, fingers easy on the spring, & I beg my father to let me clip them gentle, but he is angry about the asking, there is no back-talk in this house
& maybe I am insinuating he is drunk. To punish me, that night, when he cuts Tucker’s nails he chops all of them down to the nerve. The concrete floor with its little wet polkadots of blood. Men think nothing grows back, or everything does. Beer-battered catfish on Fourth of July. Extra eyes & fins.
Los Angeles burns. I keep thinking of spectacular time, our circuses built on the backs of once we thought nothing could be more exploited than the elephant, before we saw the ticket taker with his cap pulled low. I’m back in the hospital with my little red book. Being alive seems somehow unethical. In the intersection a man sells flowers like bursts of light & the cars sneak forward, bodies on all fours, & snuff it out with large metal hands, they are hungry for something already dead & the cars are the color of headstones, they arrive from the factories with their hulls free of fingerprints & wrapped in tight plastic & wearing new shoes & this is a symptom but I can’t recall whose. In the hospital we are sexless like certain kinds of soldiers. We stand in the line with our trays. We stand in the line to relinquish our toothbrushes. I keep checking my wrist out of habit until C draws a heart where the face used to be. C hides the good markers behind the television & then she tells everyone but we all keep the secret just to have fun, a secret from no one but against, how she shaved her head, how I know so much about kerosene. Each morning we ask the orderlies for news of the fires and what happens to our paper underwear after. Who will recycle our pamphlets. Who will find our wax cups in the creek bed one day, the bed where they say a creek used to be. Light defined as inherently eventful, a marker, catalystic tool by which one can count. C wonders who’s feeding her goldfish. We share a disease distinguished by its binaries—won’t eat tinned hot dogs, will sleep in a parking lot if given the chance and we are not supposed to say us and them but we do, as only the orderlies are allowed to wear jewelry, and anyways we’re surrounded by some sort of glass. Outside people move with such purpose. They call the little office the fishbowl where C goes to fight for the F in her file. Fishbowl : magnifying glass :: what contains : what kindles, what measures against. Not everything’s a metaphor. I’m starting to fear permanence above all other states.
ESSY STONE'S first book, What It Done to Us, was awarded the Idaho Prize in Poetry and published by Lost Horse Press in 2017. She has received a Wallace Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University, holds an MFA from the University of Miami, and is currently a Wallis Annenberg fellow at USC, where she is completing her Ph.D. Her work has been published in the New Yorker, 32 Poems, Gulf Coast, and others.