The adults had left it full of tools and echo,
floors oranged with the distinct stains
of suffering. Children were the only ones
unafraid to enter; that past wasn’t ours.
Once, my sister and I found nine fingernails,
scattered like moth wings across the floor,
blood-brown roots splintered, the red
lacquer barely chipped. We split them
between us, five for her, as she was older.
I kept mine in a tea tin, always meaning
to go back in search of the last one.
my sister had left us, my mother found her
share of the nails hidden in a clamshell.
She brought them to me with open hands,
said that her parents hadn’t been bad people—
just misled. Their indiscretions kept us safe,
she said, turning the nails over in her palm.
The polish had been rubbed thin, time-etched
strips of yellow peeking through. She left
them on my dresser in a little stack,
bellies up, each one cradling the next.
The insects frenzied, then failed all at once.
Our windows thickened with them:
dripping clusters of wasps, flies, moths, all smashed—
even the roaches gave up in the end.
It was a funny thing, learning to see
the world through that kaleidoscopic crust
of red and brown and black and yellow guts.
When I was bored, I found frost-like patterns
in the shards of exoskeleton.
Almost anything can be beautiful I think,
if you forget the context.
Weekly, my sister and I locked our eyes
to the glass as my mother stood on the other side
with a spatula and a sponge.
as soapy water melted the paste and stains
to liquid again, old blood flowing in rivulets—
and only once, early on, did I feel it
slipping down my back like a fingertip.
Brazen to the world and all its newly named sins, our matching bodies
loosed a ringing moan when clashed—we were a set
of cymbals. Ha. It was still funny then.
Between our clinquant bellies we filled a bowl of mirrored light,
a place to hoard our plump little strawberry hours,
to count them as they ripened and shrunk. Secrets
were difficult to keep; you had a father who liked his lines
clearly drawn and kept his love locked inside his guns.
But afternoons were ours in the sodden grain fields, where we opened
and poisoned ourselves with the shimmering chemical water, hidden
by floating debris—
soda cans, flailing legs and arms
of emptied clothing—we touched among ghosts
and the cedar bones of furniture, carcasses of carelessness.
Once we marveled at the black heaps of dead wheat in the distance,
apparently still laced with some enduring gold.
We were so rapt,
at first we didn’t recognize that sheen on the surface of the water
for what it was—only curling streams of gasoline.
Some in the city saw the rising
tides as a sign; some, an opportunity.
The Garage was swept, its locks refit.
The crabs grew fat on chunks of flesh
dumped in the bay, the water thick
as stew. Told in shades of human
bruising, the story of God’s love.
And what an old story it was.
We fled our camp thinking, years,
thinking, shared sleep, or marked graves,
but none came when we asked,
and we asked. We took
a lot before we left. Me: selfish
things—a dried orange peel, engraved
with a child’s crooked name, Amelia,
a paring knife with a handle carved
from ivory or maybe moonlight,
like a memory of my mother’s teeth.
Yours were more warranted: rope, a gun,
canvas, shearling. You clothed us
in weapons, my nostalgia
stuffed inside like ammunition.
Our first night in hiding, we slept
in the abandoned salt mine,
a glimmering womb. Twins,
we joked, as we had all year—
same brown hair, same brown eyes,
soft jaw, same height.
We told childhood stories—
braided grass dolls,
& the stashed relics
from our parents’ time:
tiny, orange-lined silver triangles
shed from rusted razor wire—
how once I’d salvaged four,
fashioned them into earrings for my sister
& me, matching.
You showed me the scar beneath
your left breast, & I pressed
my thumb to its gummy ridge
It seemed, you said,
like we’d all forgotten violence.
You didn’t mean it as a good thing.
When we climbed into the morning
we looked at each other,
our salt-crusted limbs
lit with sun & glittering
with traces of the evening’s movement.