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by Emily Rose Cole, in the Los Angeles Review
Instead of horns, think cello. Slow saw
of the bowstring, sing me an acre
of weeping spruces, a winter with red
details, the reek of a rotted tongue.
I swear I’m not as simple as the stories
make me seem. I’m a complex wreck.
I don’t blame you. A girl fears wreckage
like a fingerbone fears a buzzsaw.
But listen, I once lived in a house with two stories
& a taxidermist’s bench. Carving knives. Acres
of blighted trees whose skin sloughed off in tongues.
I slept in the attic. Scrounged scraps. Clubbed bats with a red
catgut racquet. I’m more than some distempered
creature. You think I’m this mythic girl-wrecker,
but when your turnips freeze, do you blame the tongues
of frost? It’s in my nature, sweetheart: riptide, hacksaw,
west wind. I take, because someone’s got to. Because ache
builds character, & a good villain makes a good story.
There’s always a taker, isn’t there? Look at history—
whole civilizations lashed together with fettered
skin. Am I so bad, compared to all those acres
changing hands through force of ruin, the shipwrecks
men make of each other’s small, irregular lives? I’m just a jigsaw
piece, the forest’s flicker of teeth. In your narrative, my tongue
slavers for girl-blood, means danger. But not all tongues
call a wolf a warning. Sometimes, I’m mother or pathfinder. Stories
change. Girls go unmurdered. It’s not my fault you saw
a predator when you looked at me, is it, Red?
You strolled up to the bar thinking now here’s a homewrecker,
a man to trust as much as an untamed wilderness, a few acres
of cloven pines. To you, I might as well be a massacre
made flesh: a dew-clawed deceiver, the whiskey-tongued
risk your mama warned you about, the distillation of wrack
& ruin. Tell me you’re not that gullible. Say you don’t believe every story
you hear. Aren’t you curious? Don’t let yourself be martyred
to loneliness. Come with me. Maybe I’m the sweetest prince you ever saw.
Emily Rose Cole is the author of Thunderhead, a collection forthcoming from University of Wisconsin Press, and Love & a Loaded Gun, a chapbook of persona poems from Minerva Rising Press. She holds an MFA from Southern Illinois University Carbondale and is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Cincinnati.