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Sonya Vatomsky

A mother's advice

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How many backs did the beast have, who did this?
Did he promise himself a prince (or, at the very least,
some kind of minor nobleman)? Did the bloodstains on
the floor not scare you, or had he pushed those bodies
under a bed in preparation, pulled loose rich silks to
obscure limbs and fingers? I never leave home without
a grimoire, but new monsters roam each fortnight; it's
hard to prepare. Anoint wrists with cold oils, warding spells
on all doors and a dagger in each boot -- a wolf learns
tricks a dog can't, swallowing grandmothers so you birth
in his red cavern, a never-ending thing to digest and
excrete and digest and excrete till you can't tell if you're
food or shit or if there's even a difference (there isn't).
Forget garlic, unless you're thinking dinner: try valerian,
to attract cats, or paprika, to repel a shadow's stale breath.
I digress. How many backs did the beast have, who did
this? How many knives will it take? The bloodstains on
the floor won't scare me, and I'll push his body under;
carry the rest out,
for a proper burial.


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It is what it is; heart packed in cotton balls and stored
for winter, or like clothes that no longer fit but still might.
You never know -- the back of the closet is an optimistic
place. More so when everything that makes you human
has been torn from the joint with sad brutality, the chef
screaming at the waste while I live off the memory like
a fat store, every intake a depletion of self. I eat myself
like a snake, blood turns cold and limbs atrophy; I'm a
patchwork of parts I no longer resemble. It's supposed
to look absurd on the screen: an impossible torture porn
that near gives you a laughing fit. Inside it's something
else -- the shame and anger chase each other in an
endless Möbius strip, a spiraling carnival ride I let
myself be talked into when sperm met egg and
pronounced me "girl," every intake a depletion of self
until there's nothing left but a small heart, stored like
old clothes I'll never wear again, but wanted too much
to give away.


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I prefer it simple, just salt and sugar.
Add the rest later; we've waited months for the sun
to chase thick dust from the bookshelf,
grease my click-clack heart till it beats louder than a forgotten bomb.
I've rolled the fish in salt already, buried the thing cold
under spare plates,
an heirloom decanter I never use but which possesses the requisite heaviness.
I'm on the losing end of this already -- I can tell.
My own bones feel old, the winter no longer a deep buttery sleep
but a fitful restlessness,
a staring out the window at black piled upon black
till muscles ache and eyelids droop.
I wish for dreams but they don't come;
I sink into earth but the salt surrounds me,
draws out my breath so the space between seconds throbs dully.
That which lasts is spread thin, the gaps filled in with vinegar.
You should not be surprised that by the end the fish has shrunk,
absorbed more than it contained.
This is how it's supposed to be.

Spring Flowers

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How long can you lick a wound before
the taste of blood no longer scares you --
I'm asking for a friend
These I've nursed all winter, but babes must wean
Penned in and shrieking till the valley quiets again
and spring explodes from the snow, crocuses like shrapnel
because a transition is a war. I served once, and that's
why I'm here -- a dangerous thing, serving. They don't tell you
about that when you're lining up and learning how to
say "yes" to everything, to string the bow with your own sinew
and give the fletcher your keepsakes for arrowheads
A locket of my mother's hair
A spoon I sucked on as a child
A dried-out Easter chocolate
A coaster from the bar where we met
And a plain gold ring to bind me to a future I did not envision
Eventually, I strung the bow with my hair,
cut at the nape and braided thickly. Held it tight like a child
Pulled, strained, released the arrow I'd oiled with my own venom
Felt it stick the way you feel a twin die, an internal ache
and strange restfulness. I don't know who won
but I think it was me

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