In order to understand
how a tree burns, try storm
when the fence of poplars
means less than skin.
Think whim, straw hats
woven too small
to fit anything that lives.
Oh, this. No, this:
a seam of tape to hold
my cardboard box
intact. They showed me
that. I ran the metal
edge along my lip.
You weren’t supposed
a penitent until confessed.
or a black ink X.
A misleading sympathy
involving your tin
mouth, a bruise the shape
of a golden plover
standing on a rusted cliff.
You drove me from one
series of birches
to the next. No matter where
or how I pressed.
We both felt too close
to the sky, but who could stop
us? All of the rain changed
its mind and became mist,
or resisted naming. We had no
words, and didn’t need coats.
I imagined myself as the pale
dun from your childhood,
brown stretch across highway
onto the shoulder, color of deer
hide tanned by snowfall or plow.
Same shade as the back of your
neck in June. You didn’t listen
to the lady with the burlap voice.
She told you to get back in
line. I was the girl who pulled
you out by the hand, clouds
turning green overhead. Nobody
else bothered asking the trees.
Three miles away, beneath
an abandoned rowboat, first
time I pressed my hand against
your cheek. I would never
take it away. We flattened into
the soil, two switchblades out
of our handles and gleaming.
Live Girls in Dead Wood Boxes
My specialty was putting clothes back on.
I woke up in a bed that was no bed
and ended on a floor that was no floor.
They never had the same hand shoot me twice
on the same day. Sometimes there’d be a knife.
Once a sisal rope. The sign said please
hold your applause, but of course no one did.
A man sat there for the entire day
and brought a turkey sandwich in a pail.
Next door, someone ignored a ringing phone.
Or was it just the sound of falling rain
hitting the roofs of all the sheds below.
Most days you only looked down at the floor
as I hitched stockings to red garter belts.
You never watched me like a dog in snow
sinking into the old black river bed.
The lights swept up before I shut the door.
They saw me twist the wire around my arm.
A candle threatened to ignite the drapes.
I held you like a wood box holds a gun.
Around this time I stopped
believing. I wanted to drown
all of the wreaths in the river.
Even the one with a cornsilk
rabbit. Especially the eggs,
the way they mocked us all
April. I was a cat walking
across a stove. My winter
coat became a strangler.
Only you could help me
out of it. How many books
could I stack in one paper
bag before the bottom tore?
The answer had something
to do with your arms, but I
never asked you to carry it.
Every day I would peel one
strip of vinyl siding off my
house. I started at the back.
There was shimmery tar
on damp wood underneath.
I did the same thing with
myself and called it purpose.
There was nothing to hate
more than the moon, lone
saucepan of simmering rice.
You wanted an archipelago
so we made one. Walking
down my street near dawn,
I could count all the houses
where someone was awake,
carnation of a lamp behind
old drapes. I wanted to press
my hand against your chest.
The four your body made
under sheets, one leg bent.
I would burn hydrangeas
in a metal drum all night.
Where You Store the Gun at Night
There was no boundary to your acres,
just a string buried somewhere under ice.
A moon for the sake of being a moon.
I’d touch it. Wouldn’t you, in the right
combination of smoke-fluster and snow?
There was once a dream about flannel
and under that flannel there was even more.
I was never good at measuring anything,
especially time. If there was a wooden box
big enough for both of us, we could hide it
on the top shelf, next to the kidskin wallet
and fingernail adhesive my grandmother
left behind. I’d never ask you to climb
onto the roof without me. Sometimes
a mattress creates its own secret space.
When I was sixteen I first discovered it:
a trail of sugar crystals on a thread.
The piece of paper that once crossed
your lips, only neither of us knew it yet.
I tucked my Sulphide marbles inside
a jacket that you never wore. Suspended
in the shooter: a fleck of a girl, and her
milk bucket. I would carry mine all day
if it kept your hands from turning red.
Mary Biddinger is the author of Prairie Fever (Steel Toe Books, 2007). Her work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Copper Nickel, Gulf Coast, The Laurel Review, Memorious, North American Review, Ninth Letter, Passages North, Third Coast, and many other journals. She is editor of the Akron Series in Poetry, Co-Editor-in-Chief of the independent journal Barn Owl Review, and the new director of the NEOMFA: Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing.