Spotlight: THE FARMER’S WIVES IN THREE ACTS by Natalie Byers

I Look At My Hands So Long I Disassociate, Return

to 1987 and find myself
wanting to gnaw on my mother.
Thinking her hands belong
to someone who exists outside
of peanut butter and jelly,
no crusts, in four triangles,
her fingers scarred by metal
flower picks, jammed into green
Styrofoam at craft fairs across the Deep South.
You could make a living selling
floral arrangements before the internet, before DIY,
when no one realized Anybody can do this shit!
Hers were displayed on a red cloth
hanging two inches from the floor,
leaving just enough space
to watch thousands of shoes walk by
or stop for a moment,
rest on one exhausted foot and then the other,
each of them cutting a little path
over a knuckle, around a thumb.
I realize her hands looked
like my hands once
and did she ever look at her own mother’s hands and say
when my hands look like this,
I’ll understand everything.

Please Don’t Ever Be Wanted

I want to grab his face
and ask
did you rape me

what a peculiar thing to ask
a father

was that hard for you to read
did you sigh
another daddy rape poem
isn’t that sad

I thought by now I wouldn’t keep
thinking of it

nothing really matters
because I’m here and

I promise, I don’t think of him much
I don’t need to understand
or be rid of anger

and my daughter—
she’s just the type of girl
they’d take advantage of

I tell her to use her words
when she introduces herself as a cat

What’s your name
What grade are you in
Mew mew

we hug
but we don’t cuddle or sleep together
I put a pillow between us until she was five

just to be sure no one could ever say
I touched her wrong

How to Use Tinder Lesson 2.4

I had a lover
for a short time
we drank whiskey
and smoked weed
until we could only
lay together

but mostly, I liked
admiring the oddities
of his body
the patchiness
of his back hair

his hooked toes
how they frowned at me
in the dark

How to Make the Most Out of Poor Dental Hygiene

Maybe it’s my first ex-husband. Maybe

it’s our child. Or the second ex
and the second child. Maybe

before that. A rotten molar
that keeps me up at night.

Does the question even matter
if the most beautiful journey

is one where nothing
happens. Nitrous wraps me

like a child afraid to sleep
and I can’t stop thinking

about language being a thing.
Of words creating space

between the things.

Mystics say
in quiet solitude, we will hear a soft song.
Others say
I can’t hear the voice of God
if I don’t ask the right question.

Doesn’t a poem question
and answer. Doesn’t it use

the things that thing
to put more space

between the question and its answer.
Isn’t this a poem.

I would like to know
the day I will die. But even the greatest soothsayer
can be wrong. I can almost hear it now:
a sea of voices asking the same question
but they each think their voice is unique.

Just as unique as a made up
alphabet created by
a made up child. Child,

do you know the question.
You aren’t an orphan,

too young to be a bride,
too girl to be a knight,

too naïve for questions about living. But at some point,
there was no language, at some point
someone wanted to tell a story, what was that
point. She’s about to forget to remember.

Hug her before there is too much space
between the things.

Say, your alphabet is beautiful.

Don’t tell her there are no answers. Don’t

tell her a pilgrimage is a lukewarm bath,
a bear in the sky, a belly full of stars.

Wait, didn’t I ask the right questions. Did I ask
anything at all.

My tongue is still numb.

Don’t teach her how to pray. It’ll be a while
before she understands the weight of it.

She will keep asking
when she needs sleep but her teeth hurt
so she imagines.


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