I am the girl spinning in her own shadow, hands spread,
forehead to feet toxic.
Where could I grow in the company of others?
Coal in my chest,
coal down my legs.
Some may see light behind me,
but when I spin, I fracture light and cover it with my coal dust.
If someone steps toward me, I spin faster.
Proximity invites tenderness, curiosity.
I turn both into disaster.
Sometimes other children approach.
Sometimes they cover me with more coal dust.
Instantly I demand flight, but I want them to stay.
When they obey and leave, I believe they know me.
Sometimes I believe they don’t know me.
I want them to sit next to me
so I can stop spinning.
I want to hear stories
or feel the quiet of their bodies, which helps me breathe.
The coal dust may have been inside me when I was born
or it may have found me when I sat in my crib
looking through the bars, watching the leaves and birds
on the tree outside the window.
The window heard me then.
It may have opened itself so I could listen to the singing.
Maybe that’s when the coal slipped in,
or maybe it moved through the crack between the shut door and the floor.
A bath can’t remove it,
but just like the fairy tales I heard when a lady spoke to her baby
from the sidewalk beneath the window,
a kiss can help it go away.
Once I kissed the back of my own hand.
That arm and hand aren’t covered with coal dust anymore.
It’s the rest of me that’s a problem.
I’m lucky to be alive.
I’m lucky to have this dress even though it’s filthy.
That’s my fault. Once, it was yellow.
If I live alone when I am old enough
or if I live in the woods,
I could grow up to be a fairy tale
with birds and leaves and trees around me singing.
They wouldn’t sing to me, but they wouldn’t mind my spinning.
I might become part of the woods then
or a forest,
like a family.
The birds and leaves might not come near me
but they could live nearby.
Then I could be still
Jan Freeman is author of Hyena, Simon Says (nominated for the NBCC Award in poetry), and Autumn Sequence. Her new collection Blue Structure is forthcoming with Calypso Editions in June 2016. Her chapbook “Silence” was semifinalist for the Tupelo, the Tupelo/Sunken Garden, and the Black Lawrence competitions. Poems are forthcoming in The Women’s Review of Books. Her work has been published in many journals and anthologies, most recently in The Academy of American Poets Poem a Day and in The Naugatuck River Review. She lives in Western Massachusetts, and directs Paris Press, which she founded in 1995.
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