Unexplained Fevers

some nights she just wasn’t
herself, skin pale and damp as a child’s
they lay her in a glass coffin
told me there was something in her throat
and I said yes we’ve all swallowed a lot of crap,
choked down broken promises like apple.

they just wanted to look at her
beautiful her face still flushed
her lips red as blood on the windowsill
(the promises of her mother come back to haunt her-
why do they wish beauty? Why not safety?)

at night she felt there were eyes on her
but we said there was nobody there
no one could hurt her with us around
still she would fall down          one time
the doc said her hair ribbon was laced
with poison absorbed through her scalp
she slept twelve days straight
we stayed over her and sang

she was nervous about strangers
had dreams about old women and mirrors
we figured she’d come to a bad end
girls like that they bruise easy like fruit
girls like that always getting lost in the woods
looking for a father-figure,
trading in her high-heels for hand-me-downs,
but don’t count her out yet

something tells me she hasn’t
drawn her last breath her mouth is still open
she always felt something in her chest
at night said she felt hollow
something about “trading her heart”
something about “destined for an early grave”
you know girls like her always singing
ballads about babies buried under trees
you never know with this kind of girl
hair dark as ebony and skin white as snow
full of nursery rhymes about red roses
this might be the wake up call she needed

The Secret Life of the Forest

after Rene Lynch’s exhibition of paintings by the same name

I am a romantic. This despite the birds in my hair.
I’ve wandered too far off the path collecting flowers,
simply because I wanted more.
The air around me turns metallic.
My dress and skin are thin as mist,
you can see the blue beneath.
The forest sways above me, my arms become branches.
In thirty years, will there still be swallows
to pick the gold from my hair?
Wolves chasing my ankles?
So many children lost to the forest,
simply swallowed by thickets.
Trails of breadcrumbs and crumpled notes.
I’m looking out for myself.  I know the red dusk,
the teeth and claws of darkness, the folly
of wearing leaves for a blanket. Anywhere I go,
I’ll bring a set jaw and outstretched hand.

Cautionary Tale About Women Who Turn Into Birds

Sweeping their pale feathers from the floor.
They were always hungry, always about to take flight.
Broody. Brooding. Interested in silk thread, in shine.

One day you will speak their language.
One day you will learn to fly.
One day you too will see the iron lake and meet your brothers in the air.

One day they were wearing moonlight, the next the stars.
How could you expect to hold them? They had warned you
already with that ring in the soup, their strange silences

you mistook for serenity. Write them a love letter,
put it in the mouth of a cave. Wait seven years.
It may be their migration was a mistake.

 


Jeannine Hall Gailey is the Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington, and the author of Becoming the Villainess (Steel Toe Books, 2006) and She Returns to the Floating World (Kitsune Books, 2011,) an Eric Hoffer Montaigne Medal finalist for 2012. Her work has been featured on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac, Verse Daily, and in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. Her poems have appeared in journals such as The Iowa Review,American Poetry Review, and Prairie Schooner. She’s a 2013 Jack Straw Writer, volunteers as an editorial consultant for Crab Creek Review and currently teaches part-time at the MFA program at National University. Her web site is www.webbish6.com.