Miss Reading

Ms. Reading

Mr. Hilt called this morning to check on me.

I called him at home, early in the morning. I told him I was sick. I needed a sub. I was sorry for the inconvenience. I got off the phone and put two fingers down my throat over the kitchen sink. I don’t like to tell lies. Then I really did feel tired so I put myself back to bed.

I wanted to hear his morning voice. I needed to know if it was furry with sleep or clear like morning icicles. His voice sounded just like it does at school. Maybe a little lower. I’m making that up. I don’t like to tell lies. Not big ones. But sometimes I do, and I usually make them so good that even I believe them.

My mother died before Christmas.

When I was a young girl, I developed early. Hair when I was eight and a bra at nine. She went from eyeing me with disdain to turning away from me with absolute revulsion. I got my period just before I turned ten, and by this time, her revulsion had turned to hate and it had arms and legs and yellow toenails. People don’t believe me when I say that, but I know what I know, and Mother hated me.

After I used the bathroom, just to pee even, she would go in after me and walk out waving her hand in front of her face, saying, “Jesus, Karen.” I just can’t believe she smelled anything. I just can’t. All the time she said, “Think you should get in that shower before bed, Karen,” and, “Make sure you brush those teeth.” I swear she thought I was retarded or close to it.

She bleached the crotch of my underwear whenever I had an accident with my period. Pink underwear, yellow ones. Printed with cherries or the days of the week. She poured bleach over just the crotch. I started throwing my underwear away in trash cans at school and once I didn’t have any left, I would go to Dry Goods to get more. She never asked where the new underwear came from when they went through the wash. It was fine with her as long as I kept the vile parts of me away from her.

She was sick for a few months before she died. It wasn’t a long illness by the time they found cancer riddled through her like birdshot. There was no grand moment near the end. She didn’t hold my face and I certainly didn’t hold hers. She didn’t ask for forgiveness or tell me she loved me, and since I didn’t love her, I didn’t tell her I loved her.

One night I took a tray with peas, applesauce sprinkled with cinnamon, and a cup of tea to her in the hospital bed set up in the dining room. I turned on the news for her and turned to leave and make my own dinner. She muted the TV and said, “One thing.” She stared at Jim Gardner’s moving lips on the TV. “When someone has to do things for me. That’s when.” And she turned up the volume.

So when it was close to the end, I spooned weak tea in her mouth and put on Jeopardy. I put pills in her mouth and slid my fingers in pushing them down her throat. Her mouth felt like a baby’s. Toothless, hard and wet gums, a dry tongue. I shuddered at the wetness. She didn’t reach for me and I didn’t touch her. I made myself stay in the same room in case she choked or vomited. She was gone by the time the hospice nurse arrived.

That night I had a dream that I was in the bathtub in a strange house. Strange hands fluttering all around me. I was so embarrassed when I looked down and saw that I was nude. Nausea started stacking blocks in my stomach and up my throat, but then a finger pushed a warm, soapy washcloth into my ear. It was the best thing I have ever felt in my life. Probably like what it feels like to be high on really good drugs. I slipped further down in the water and the soapy washcloth cleaned my face, going around my chin and passing over my forehead over and over.

Beavers and Coyotes

I don’t have stories. I have stories.
I use to be addicted to heroin.
I have never been addicted to heroin.
I was a beaver before. True.
I had stiff whiskers and a paddle for a tail.
I should be a beaver still. Look at my mouth,
And tell me I wasn’t meant
To gnaw at tree trunks and peppermints and
The white skin inside my arm, sleek as my own teeth.
[I gnawed. I did what I was supposed to do.
I do what I am supposed to do. I gnaw.] Put a silk purse full of sticks
Between my teeth. Hurry. Snap closed the plastic gold clasp with a click.
Some echoes are like shadows that drop in front of a balloon.
It is deep night and coyotes are pulsing on low hills while I gnaw.
See their flanks shine. My flanks shine.
My flanks glow like teeth. I gnaw and worry at wood,
At my glowing arm, worrying away, pulling splinters from my skin.
Coyotes foam and pulse. It would all be different if I could foam and
Pulse. I foam and pulse. I didn’t do what I was supposed to do.
I was high on heroin. I’ve never touched heroin. I should have touched heroin. I
should touch heroin. I should touch it now! I should
Gnaw open my veins with friendly old square teeth. Time is
Wasting. Wasted. I am wasted. I am lightheaded.
I woke up in a cardboard box of sticks tee-pee’d on a concrete
Sidewalk. Inside blankets were circled into loose, friendly nests on the
Pebbled sidewalk, like piles of hair shorn from
The quietly pulsing scalps of small girls.
I am the smallest girl you have ever known, and I weeded out my
own hair, hands motoring in circles, into a nest for
Anyone who will stop to rest beside me.
Pull me into your lap. Fold me open
Like a paperdoll. Curl me into a pillbug,
a bloom, a teabag with a square paper tail.
Crimp me until I please you.
I didn’t sleep enough. I can’t ever, not
Ever sleep long enough. Coyotes cried and
Barked all night, stirring their yips
In their bellies. I understand.
My head is loose and the sun is wiping snazzy
Fingers over my face. My hands are dry and dusty. When I snap, powder
Puffs from my fingers. My skin flakes. I get a palm-sized broom, borrowed
From a diner crowing about its chocolate pies. I am covered in scales.
Peel me down. Take care. Watch the powder. My teeth crack on peeling sticks,
Breaking like eggshells over the rim of a silver bowl. The unevenness of their
Shells is just exactly what I have been thinking about. I sand my thoughts down,
Worry at the rough edges. This is what I do when I’m doing what I’m supposed
To do. I dull my thoughts, break their sharp points down into
Little mounds of sawdust, piled like anthills on hot sidewalks.
The sun presses on my forehead. I am a pile of limbs. My pelvis rocks. I eat
Limbs. I eat anything in piles. My arm bones dry up, crack.
The morning sun does this: crack like an egg
On the ocean’s rim. I was lightheaded. I am lightheaded. The sun is just right.
I’m alone in a chilly pond. The sun can only be like this
When I’m brown and
Waist deep in chilly water, teeth pulsing and gums foaming.
I am made for sawing.
I was made to saw. I am ready to saw.
I’m swaddled tight and dry in athick pelt.
Sun smacks my cheeks with both palms,
Pulling my face up to the white glow.

Edit

Take one look at my fleshy mouth,
And you tell me I wasn’t meant to
Gnaw at wood and peppermints ticked red and mostly
The white skin inside my arm, running up sleek as my own teeth.
Put a silk purse full of sticks between my teeth.
Hurry. Snap the plastic gold clasp with a click.
Coyotes are pulsing. Coyotes pulse. See their flanks shine.
My flanks glow like teeth. I gnaw and worry at wood,
At my glowing arm with sharp teeth.
Coyotes foam and pulse. It would all be different if I could foam and
Pulse. I foam and pulse. I didn’t do what I was supposed to do.
I was high on heroin. I’ve never touched heroin. I should have touched heroin. I
should touch heroin. I should touch it now. I should
Gnaw my veins open with dull, sharp teeth. Time is
Wasting. Wasted. I am wasted. I am lightheaded.
I woke up in a cardboard box of sticks tee-pee’d on a concrete
Sidewalk, wool blankets circled into loose, friendly nests, like
Piles of hair shorn from the quietly pulsing scalps of small girls.
I am the smallest girl you have ever known, and I weeded out my
own hair, my hands motoring, into a nest for anyone,
Anyone who will stop to rest
with me. I didn’t sleep long enough. I can’t ever, not
Ever sleep long enough. Coyotes cried and
Barked all night, stirring their yips
In moist circles over a fire. My head is loose and the sun wipes
Fingers over my face. My hands are dry and dusty. When I snap, powder
Puffs from my fingers. My skin flakes. I get a palm-sized broom, I borrow
It from a diner crowing about its chocolate pies. I am covered in scales.
Peel me down. Take care of the powder. My teeth break on peeling sticks,
Cracking like eggshells over the rim of a silver bowl. The unevenness of their
Shells is just exactly what have been thinking on. I sand my thoughts down
On rough edges. This is what I do when I’m doing what I’m supposed
To do. I dull my thoughts, break their sharp points down into
Little mounds of sawdust, piled like anthills on hot sidewalks.
The sun presses on my forehead. I am a pile of limbs. I eat
Limbs. My arm bones dry up, crack. The Morning sun does this: crack
Like an egg on the ocean’s rim. I was Lightheaded. I am lightheaded. The sun is just right.
I’m alone in a chilly pond. The sun can only be like this
When I’m brown and
Waist deep in chilly water, teeth pulsing and foaming. I am made for sawing.
I was made to saw. I’m swaddled tight and dry in rough, wet fur.
Sun marks my face.
You know how it is when the sun is this
Way and you’re brown and dry and wet.