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Rebecca Cook

The Ship in the Bottle

I was eleven. There were brown strings in my vagina. My head snapped with estrogen. My mother reached into my chest and pulled out poems, so many poems. It was excruciating for both of us. She left me to the heaviness of my brain, the gash of my sins.

I was asleep. He came through my window. He was not gentle. He plowed furrows, planted his sons in me, so many sons. He fucked me from behind. He fucked me all night long. My mother wouldn't let me call it rape.

All because he liked the look of me in the doorway, all because the angels sang in my mouth. He dressed me in pure white, took me to a yellow kitchen. I was full, I was sick. I pulled a long string from my throat, longer and longer till the enormous mass of wings and feet and curls plopped out.

I am strapped to a metal chair, neck stretched tight to lightning. God holds his hand over my mouth. He likes me silent. I am the mother of poems. I am burning. God is the monster who lifts up my covers at night, and all this time I thought it was my father.

There is a God-thing left in me, a cross, a collection plate. A tiny seed. A beanstalk sprouts and grows, breaks through and reaches up. Jesus climbs the stalk to heaven, higher, higher, and in this way the world is saved, in this way I am light, light as my Barbie's red curls, five again, leaping the yard, struggling the thicket, black blue blackberry fingers, someone almost gentle, a mother of some kind. An echo.

I can not suckle him, his possum teeth. There is no one to blame. The house waves on its rickety stilts. I spoon new wine into his mouth, grind-chew bits of meat. I feed him bitterroot and nightshade, toadstools. Children have been raised on worse. We sit and wait for God to find us.

I wonder if you've tasted friendship bread. You bake it in a coffee can. My granny did this every summer. She served it at the Women's Aide Society. They met in the white house across from the stone church. There were coffee cups and white saucers on the table, little bowls of green mints. Before their business, they said a long prayer. I sat on my granny's lap. The darkness was green-yellow.

God has made me pink inside, a girl's blanket of tongue. My mouth is always sweet. I wade into the river, blow bubbles through a long reed. All the rivers of the world turn pink, birthday punch. There are children flowing over the hills. They are loud, then louder. I cover my ears.

Finally, he takes me to the opera. He is handsome on my arm. He owns his own tux and nobody has such shiny shoes. I can see the reflection of pearls, the sheen of neckline. It could be me.

I hang in the church closet. I hear God whistling to the yorkies. They trot up the aisle like brides. I hear the bells of many weddings, their dancing feet, their feasting.

The subway ribbons past. I'm dizzy on the platform, the yellow line of toes. I wait for him to come back. I wait for him to lift the veil from my face. I wait for his breath to blow into my breath, his kiss, his kiss.

I step into my crushed velvet dress. The preacher drips water onto my head. I wait to feel clean. I wait for my voice. I wait for my mother, who left me here. I wait for his foot on the glass.

The Spurt From the Horn

The velvet is for the monarchs, the envelopes for my psychosis. To extremes am I tidy. I have swallowed all the translucent umbrellas. I am purple sick in the thumb. The old van is still driving to the beach, tissues hang bat-like above the rims.

Here are my étagères. (that's my French) Here I have blood for my transfusions. I have my pickles and the thousands of tiny fetuses they send me in the mail. It's my job to organize their eyes, to snip the bones of their flattened chests.

You will be impressed by my beauty, because of the fireplace, one ear blistered clean away. A horn spurted up in its place. I must always sleep sitting up now. My chin strap, my gas mask, my bedfellows.

Every morning first thing the goggles the measurement of my amplitude I keep meticulous records card catalogues this one was last borrowed in nineteen-sixty-nine the very top row the children backlit black

It isn't likely but you may have met my sister. She takes tiny steps. She is a penguin, married to a pointed thing leaning against the wall. I am not married myself. No one will have me, the stink of my neck is too overwhelming. The wound there has never closed.

At some point I learned to read, at some point I tied my own shoes, at some point I was held fast against the ice, the iron of her thigh, stuck up a dark whole. This proves nothing.

I have discovered that I crawled in through a wall of dentures, a net of hair in the nurse's throat. She slammed a needle into my temple. I became a radio, picking up signals from a nearby patrol.

But it may surprise you to see my skinny bathroom, pink and black as a hat box, my shower cap, my lemon soap. There is no one now to make letters on my back. The penguin used to do it. And sew bubbles into my shoulders. And give me a boost out the shower window.

I will show you now how it's done. We must have the long-armed net, then into the orchard, then the hours of wait. Many are chosen. Many are required. The best velvet is always green, the way of the bedspread, the way of the cabbage head.

I believe that I will kiss you now, my shoal, my gift, please swallow. They have swum long in me. I will follow them inside you, the sluice of your tongue. You may keep this house, assume my occupations. There are instructions on the table.

Open all the envelopes, dump every baby, every pickle, every hemoglobin jar. Scrub each wall before the party. There must be marzipan. And yellow punch. You must keep watch on the daybed. When they arrive, slip out the parlor door.

I have fins, snorkel, a tank of air. I will pass from you into the pond, into the river, into the sea. There's a red sun here, quite a significant thing. I see now there are many copies of me. This means I have planned well.

This means I am pleasant. And well-bred. A new house is floating toward me. The penguin waves from every window. The sky hangs low. I find that I am quite striking in orange. Everyone wears it here. And wings.

➥ Bio