Brynne Rebele-Henry/United States of America, 1999
Brynne Rebele-Henry (1999, USA) Her first book, Fleshgraphs, appeared with Nightboat Books in 2016. Her second book, Autobiography of a Wound, won the AWP Donald Hall Poetry Prize and is forthcoming this autumn from University of Pittsburgh Press. Her first novel, Orpheus Girl, is forthcoming from Soho Press in 2020. Her writing has won numerous awards, including the 2015 Louise Louis/Emily F. Bourne Poetry Award from the Poetry Society of America, the 2016 Adroit Prize for Prose, and a 2017 Glenna Luschei Award from Prairie Schooner.
Tell me it wasn’t red, that when we bled it was only cobwebs in the shape of a broken womb, that the stitches were eyelashes twitching open, the shadow of a girl at night and a flickering lamp in a verde room filled with someone else’s dead, ghosts lining the insides of my mouth like fillings, gold flashing out through my insides, rubbing stones until they wore to dust and praying to something larger than ourselves, watching the bones shift until I was no longer safe, until I was something to be hunted, scarred myself so no one else could do it for me, a girl isn’t a woman until she’s been broken so I broke myself until my body was only dust and someone else’s hands, until my veins turned so barren they couldn’t get needles in, something more refuse than girl.
Sunday like a stretch of dawn you found, held it small and glistening like a slash of something not us in the dried up bed– we were the moths and our wings were that sort of blue-green bruise and the red was still staining us like the dark wet clay we found underneath the pier, the sick damp feeling spreading into our mouths like the honey our priests used to anoint us with before we became unholy girls, that silence like the still uterine quiet of baptism, back when we could still be saved, when your mouth was still a mouth we would get sick off empty sugar packets and let the grains dissolve into illness on our tongues– this was before the midnight telephone hooks, the house gone small with your withering. Feral cats started circling our back doors, trying to sneak in so we newspapered the windows to keep something we didn’t know out, your bandages like small butterfly wings in the dark. This was before I met a girl in a car at night and her car was filled with sugar wrappers– old dried up candies glinting like minnows in the dark ocean of her backseat. After, we walked through a cornfield and she said I just wanted to be holy/I didn’t want to be this way/wrong, she wrote each psalm on her thigh with Sharpie: An abomination/thou shall not lay shall not lay with your same, the slick of the cornfield’s skeins crunching under our feet like small bodies. I etched her name into my arm with her keys and pretended I didn’t. After you left, I stopped eating sugar and started drinking salt mixed with tepid water, filled the house with old stale pastries and let the frosting rot and mold.
The visions begin at six, the lime bitter in your mouth, the elegy for all you once wanted to become breaking across the water like a storm.
The sight, they called it.
This is how a girl becomes holy: first she becomes empty, becomes nothing but absence.
To be a girl is to be an opening, something to be filled, sugar thick on your tongue, but all you are still is wet and empty, mouth open, stoned hole. Catherine, your throat flushed with mint and salt water to cure your desire for softness.The women you knew in the dark, as if we could ever become anything more than after-wound.Catherine, at night, you know, the air holds a place for girls like you.Stars are beautiful only because of their absence in the rest of the sky, because of that stretch of new emptiness. So you think you’ll let the dusk turn, like a rotting pear, until it is as soft and full as teeth?
Let me be pure/let me be holeless The safest girls are those who stay quiet Saints would stitch their lips shut with black wire I always said that one day I would be holy I always said that one day I would be a swan Mute and nothing but tar and lovely feathers We used to mix vinegar with salt water Gargle it to look for cuts inside our throats I used to swab my own throat until I choked on the cotton Once I coughed for so long my lungs fell out Once I forgot how to speak Once I became all stone Once I was something not girl Once I was a bird
The cats still in the dark outside your house, at the beach we let the sand chap our bodies into something not our bodies and you drew lines over my skin with the crooked edges of shells and we forgot your fingers on my spine in the night. Your father is a man turned to stone, one of these days we will find him rocked over on the very same porch step but this time his eyes won’t open again, or they will be open and unblinking, shards of broken-bottle blue and a half-whispered promise, the touch we tried to forget. Your mother said a body is an engine and girls like us are scorched, gasoline cans left on the pavement. After the brushfire we sat in your attic, sucked the singe off our fingers, mouths full of soot. Your father said to pray for a flood so we started burning everything up, let our knees start to blacken and took up smoking, as if a lungfull of ash could save us, as if the sky weren’t red, but some nights we still climb the reservoir, swim until we can’t anymore and then we float.