It wasn’t a goat’s head swaying in the tree. It was a ferret
we sacrificed in the microwave. And we weren’t us yet
just the preteen versions of who we would become—
though wasn’t that us already?—the girls with their hair
in clumps and the boys who cursed whispers in their ears?
M. had brought her home from the pet store at the mall,
and for a while we tended to her as if she were our own.
An eyedropper of Dr. Pepper and a bed of Oklahoma grass,
afternoons we absentmindedly fingered her ears as we smoked
stolen Menthols. Stacy even made a dress for her, pricked
her thumb a thousand times, just to get it right. Listen:
I was only naked twice; the second time I bled all down my legs.
The ferret’s fur grew matted during our long school days,
but we’d come home to her, pull the key that hung from our necks,
let ourselves in, urge her to latch on to our fingers. My own daughters
never had trouble latching. I nursed them for too long, some said.
Maybe she had grown sick, maybe we wanted to save her, but really,
we wanted ourselves to be saved. Before they cut off her legs,
Mama Heaton carried a roll of rainbow candies in her purse.
I’d suck my mouth raw while Jesus wept at the front of the dusty tent.
The world is unfair. This we knew then but we didn’t know how unfair.
On the other side of town, children were given snacks.
But here: sip, pop, sizzle, ding. Did you hear what happened
to the girl who swallowed? Maybe we were just trying to save her.
The day tapered off. I don’t remember caring about sunsets then,
but surely I did. These days, I Instagram the whole pretty horizon
of my whole pretty life. Maybe we were just trying to warm her;
she was as cold as we were. And then, too quickly, we locked her out
of our minds, grew warm, grew up, got our own keys to our own places,
and then someone, some day, in spite of it all—sippoppainsizzleding—
offers us a love we don’t deserve and don’t know how to handle—
and if we take it, well, what then?
Nicole Callihan’s latest book of poetry is Translucence, a collaboration with Palestinian poet, Samar Abdel Jaber, now available from Indolent Books. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Sixth Finch, Tin House, American Poetry Review, and as a Poem-a-Day selection from the Academy of American Poets. You can find her at www.nicolecallihan.com.