Two Poems


if I wear your death
like a coat,
             your face lying
             on my shoulder,
             my breath enough
             for us both,
your hair will become
             with mine
strand by strand,
lock by lock.

As you grow heavier
and I become weak,
you may start to fall off
just a bit
             two faces distinct
             though side by side
but the sight of me
wearing you
will be so normal
to everyone’s glances
that no one will wonder
if there’s one of us
             or two.

And when you finally slip
to the ground
             and crumple
             at my feet
             like a shadow
then perhaps,
if I step into the light,
it will just be this new me
             without any you
except for strands of my hair
in yours
and yours in mine.

A man with a gaping mouth
             and rows
             upon rows
of teeth.
He carves an intricate pattern
into the back of my hand
with his knife
so the pain lingers.
In my mind, I want to jump ahead
to the time I know the pain
will be over.
But I make myself
             feel it
             watch it
             be grateful for it.
I know that I will flash
this someday scar
like a secret password:
             “Let me in.”

He slits open my left knee,
slips something inside,
and sews it up
             in a jagged stitch.

I stay
until he knows
there is nothing worse he can do to me.
I walk away
             and walk
over a shimmering border
             of stray sparks.
I am out of his reach.
On the other side,
she waits in a little cottage.
She's beautiful,
             she's kind,
and she beckons me to sit beside her.
She puts her hand on my scarred,
             swollen knee
and says gently,
“You know you will never be rid of this,”
and at that moment
             I understand.

Inside my knee, he entombed
the bodies of dead people
and I will carry them with me always
             their sunken grief
             their sudden endings
             their scattered skeletons.

The woman begins to cough
her breathing labored.
I reach out to her,
touching her bony back
and in that moment I realize
             she's actually unsettlingly old.
Her youth and beauty take immense effort.
She wants no one
to waste their concern on her.

I go to open the door
to leave
but there's no handle.
I must use my sturdy fingernails
             to pry the door open.
There's another door behind that
             and then another
             and another.
I open the final door,
step into the bright light, and
             just like a Viking
I walk out to sea.
A thousand voices
             far away and above
             the sidelit clouds
sing swelling words
in a dead language.
If I go far enough in
I will drown in victory.

Something is swimming hard toward me.
A selkie.
Half her face has been hacked off,
             her one remaining
             canine tooth
has been brutally removed,
leaving a jagged scar like mine.

Shannon Wood Rothenberg is a former math teacher. If you’re itching to read her college honors thesis, entitled Causation, Counterfactuals, and Possible Worlds, she will giddily send you a pdf and then meet you for coffee. Her love affair with mathematics is rivalled only by her deep attraction to history, writing & editing, super-jaw-droppingly-cool-pre-Industrial-Revolution-era inventions, deep philosophical conversations, and Old English.