If there’d been a Heaven,
it would’ve known my name
without a label round my wrist.
There’d be more than a glass of water,
bed white as a wedding. My wish missed.
My eyes have reopened in a different room
of the same Hades I always knew. How silly,
to believe there could be any other version
of eternity. The truth is clear as this water
taunting me, trapping that ghastly face
in its glass, framing my mangled nape—
now just another mouth taped shut.
In what can the silenced place any faith?
A new voice must first be heard to be cure.
If I follow this vein,
my neck will remind me,
some words are not so easily bled.
Resurrected, my head surges
again, serpents curling
through my red electric,
burning my circuits hot.
I was loved not. But isn’t the scar
worse than the raze that blazed it?
I envy the beasts that make their way
onto my plate; they bleed just once,
and the blow ends their story.
But a life as more than meat may render
a chance for you to sever a tether.
All I hold are broken clues,
bruises and blood to patch instead
of glue. The book has implied Forgiveness
divine, as if that act can mend, render anything
re-intact, but forgiving these snakes would divide
me in two. Into further forfeit. For my memory runs
thick and deep as blood; its heat can’t be
so easily snuffed. Forgive, that book
would command. But see my
lack. Of sheer capacity
for. Giving that.
Strip this fiction of its grip by lifting
your eyes from the page to the sky while you
seek the gift no one can take or take back.
IV. Vantage Point
When my eyes try
to gaze high, they espy
only the snakes that have named me.
I’ve nearly forgotten the blue
that trains the waves in color
beyond this cage
and bolted gate.
When I unfold
my wings, they strain
to lift this serpentine weight.
But you cannot access a new view perched
in the same place forever. To wander
beyond this confine, you must fortify
all facets of you with the skill to fly.
V. Flight Manifest
I once dared to imagine a light
bright enough to illuminate the space
between me and freedom. From my isle,
I thought I saw a route across, thought each word
of this wish could be a dash of a path
marking the way from this sand to new land,
each letter a feather that together could lift
me above and beyond even the vastest abyss.
But isn’t this figment?
What if you ditched the blinders, sought your light?
Why choose to keep dwelling in the darkness
of the snakes’ den, permit them to constrict
you? Set new sights; look again in your glass,
shimmering like a shield. Haven’t we met?
My face seems to blur,
warped in this space. Am I
above or beneath this water
oscillating? Did my vision
tunnel too long
through the dark dirt
of the serpents’ burrow, drain
from the constant, singular gaze?
As eyes see differently by day than night,
you too can dilate to view beyond sight,
glimpse within and outside. Connect the right
plots. Aim to see more than scales and fangs.
Another face awaits—one you have had
a hand in crafting, choosing now to seek.
What’s divided me
from me? I search but can’t find
the latch to this mask, can’t spot
the seams where the snakes bit and split me.
I see I’ve barely
belonged to me. But what
is a bound, broken bird left to be?
Think a girl lives who hasn’t been damaged?
Anything can fracture a fragile wing;
a grounded bird still attempts a flutter.
Why not strive to mend and alight, enter
heavens of your own creating? A new
kind of flight might unwind the serpents’ clasp,
transform you from a captive to captain.
My fists wish to curl against
the world of these serpents, but I can’t grasp
their slick scales when I drag my brasses.
What good are these hands
if they can’t rip the villains
from my recesses?
If you sift with them instead, you can search
the debris, separate gems from sand. Hands
can break but do better when creating—
taking an old gray stone instead, turning
it to lead and neutralizing old guiles
through acts these crafters have sharply chosen.
The only way to escape his story:
pen your own, reclaim your territory.
I don’t know where beginnings begin.
I don’t know if I can birth one.
I don’t know who can be fashioned from fragments.
I don’t know what to call such a woman.
I don’t know how she’ll be fortified.
But are you willing to play such a role?
Are you willing to try to rectify?
Are you willing to forge an unknown whole?
Like faith, let’s commit to this blind striving.
Like lightning, let’s strike our terms in flashes.
Like fire, let’s melt to bridge the divides.
Like a phoenix, we’ll cast off the ashes.
From a core eager to molt the old dust,
we’ll shape a new woman because we must.
My tongue may flail, straining to split
the shackles of these incessant hisses.
So I will start with this nib.
Instead, I will deploy this writ.
A wave may redouble before it breaks,
its sound deafening—but then it dissolves.
And every snake must brumate once the sky
settles into its winter grays. Once gulped
in their smothering gullets, now these words
appear and stick to the page. Not all those
who’d sound use their mouths to speak. Here words stretch
beyond body, soaring with their own wings.
Songs can stream both from fingers and from beaks.
One doesn’t always need to speak to sing.
Once upon a time was never mine.
Even before the time I first woke,
that lie has stuck in my throat.
Now I know how the old con goes: A snake
will spin and twist as if these small gestures
could be innocent. But then the scales stretch,
the breadth expands, the corps contorts before
the strike—our parts carved out before our eyes
can even guess which direction we missed.
The deceit is deliberate, leaves us
dazed so other snakes can sink their way in,
flood us with more of that brackish poison.
But I know now too, once you grasp the trick,
then you can begin to dismantle it.
XII. Water Shed
I know what it is to be broken by others, all parts beaten
and lost to another’s, as if ocean rules the sand it casts.
And when I realized it had, I wept.
But when I wept, my tears split sea’s surface,
and I claimed that throne, became god of salt,
water, shapes, sounds, failing, falling, rising
again. I broke that ocean with a rage
I couldn’t contain. Now it undulates
with my tongue, delivers a hymn binding
all other sound to it, even the birds
overhead. Some men thought they’d be able
to rule this water forever, but none
can stop this sound. When my ocean first spoke,
the serpents nested in my head recoiled.
I no longer place any faith in the fables of snakes.
Belief in such claims rendered me a slave.
Only cold blood runs inside that villain;
he raided to drain all heat from his slave.
It’s true that he did invade this body;
he couldn’t retain the mind of this slave.
He’ll never touch an ounce of me again,
never again taste the meat of this slave.
I didn’t have to part to crack his trap;
skin hinges to stay intact, not enslaved.
Now I see he couldn’t really steel me;
I’ve forged this new gun for a former slave.
My target is truth, and I shoot to save.
I aim for it with the words that I made.
Dust dances in the sun now, so tiny
the air meets it as sea, and the grains gild
the leaves of my plants. As I water them,
I recall how a woman I once knew
used to keep strings-of-pearls just like the one
I now have. It struck me so suddenly,
finally feeling one of the tendrils;
despite the distance, she and I shared life;
I might just be tending to her garden.
Then, I recognized his world would persist
with its spinning; I recognized not all
our sisters have been able to seize peace;
I recognized countless questions remain,
with answers I must continue to seek.</p
Raegen Pietrucha writes, edits, and consults creatively and professionally. Her chapbook, An Animal I Can’t Name, won the 2015 Two of Cups Press competition; her debut poetry collection, Head of a Gorgon, is forthcoming with Vegetarian Alcoholic Press in 2022; and she has a memoir in progress. She received her MFA from Bowling Green State University, where she was an assistant editor for Mid-American Review. Her work has been published in Cimarron Review, Puerto del Sol, and other journals. Connect with her at raegenmp.wordpress.com and on Twitter @freeradicalrp