Tallulah Falls School
I used to be thirteen like bad luck and missing floors
like death omens, black cats crossing dirt roads by candlelight.
My grandmother sits on the front porch, smaller than I remember
swaybacked like an old dining room chair, spine arched and chest jutting out
her skin stretched thin like Bible paper over her bones, her voice the rasp of cracked earth.
Humble yourself, child, she says through her teeth
how I break my mother’s back with the weight of me.
In the mirror I am too much and too little all at once
a cow wrapped in girl-skin, all round gut and hunched back
all clumsy, quivering calf; stumbling doe-legs stuttering beneath me.
I’m a woman now and I prick myself on the needle-point edge of it;
growing pains like blood between my legs,
like aches between my shoulderblades—
I cut the bad parts from myself like mold from bread and I am half-grown so I bleed.
You know I’ll break my own legs if it’ll spare you the effort
all the real ladies are cripples, where I’m from
slut-bared skin showing in all the gaps,
those wide empty spaces inside where light doesn’t reach.
Outside the peach tree branches are laden with fruit, dripping pregnant with it
blister-hot stretches of country road
take my heart and eat it.
My lord is a god with sharp teeth
who cannot feed his children, and so he eats them whole.
Run ask your sister— how long can she atone the sin of being born?
I spill my guts across the kitchen table to
close the circle, complete the ritual.
The old house creaks and settles on its foundations, disquieted,
the amen to a late-night prayer.
It is the third hour and I am crucified, vulgar in my infancy
half-grown songbird with stunted wings tripping over skirts and
I keep my broken heels in the closet; you can’t hold your head too high around here
leaves your neck wide open, sister, begging for a fist around it.
Go on and gild your own cage
you’ll break your own heart and that’s okay;
bless you, child, you don’t know how to live without bleeding.
Some things don’t wash clean like they should:
my sister’s sister with a swollen stomach and soiled clothes.
The low, deliberate hum of cicadas in the distance is
like God’s voice as it rings through me.
The zipper on my skirt is broken,
there’s a bruise on my thigh like a man’s hand.
The sun dips low on the horizon and I am too much like my father.
I dream of somewhere far from here,
where the sun doesn’t burn like hellfire
where the sound of doors creaking as they close is
something I bury, unmarked and unnamed.
A boy my age has his hands on my waist and it doesn’t matter;
I am not of this place though it has born me
if I dream hard enough I don’t exist.
What immediately startled me in this piece was its language—earthy, raw, and bustling with religious undertones. The speaker is candid and controlled, bellowing her struggles with precision and swollen metaphor. The narrative creates such a profound sense of emotional gravity without ever trying to outsmart itself, and what eventually comes through the page is a voice of brutal sincerity and maturity—a poem detailing a loss of innocence with a spirit of straggling adolescence.
Mary Sanders is an aspiring linguist who enjoys writing in her spare time. She attends a small boarding school in Georgia. Her other hobbies include volunteering, painting, and yoga. She is very honored to be published!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR