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Once

 

Once I read about Nazi Germany and how glamorous actresses with pencil thin brows dipped white rose petals in ether and chloroform and sucked them dry for breakfast while their country burned.

 

Once I wrote a story where hair was braided so tight, it pulled the scalp away from the body.

 

Once I saw a girl dragged under a trailer by her feet; we were in second grade and at school and to this day when I climb an open stairwell in the dark I race from what might be lurking, even in my locked house, even though the sun was shining that day.

 

Something I have never been is a runner.

 

Once nine-year-old me scrambled away from a voice in the dark opened doorway of a van that called,

            “hey, little girl”

 

Once thirteen-year-old me scrambled up a fence as an unknown van veered off the road, towards me,

and wouldn’t stop,

I tumbled,

and it kept coming

I ripped the flesh off my own hands

and it kept coming

danger bubbled in my gut, stung my chapped lips

and it kept coming,

but it wasn’t danger.

It was my mother, in a different car, and she was laughing.

 

Once fourteen-year-old me was a zoo animal, caged with other zoo animals, watching a weary zookeeper nod at our wildness and blink back the sun.

 

Something I have always feared is dying without an audience.

 

Once I heard about three sisters in a field, and a boy took the first home, then the second. The last sister was sad and crying, so the boy took her home too; and all three made themselves useful to him, and lived long happy lives.

 

Once I sold a poem about how well I scurry and climb. How honorable all the scurrying! How noble my bloody hands!

 

Once I told a lie about Icarus and his feathers. Every boy is Icarus, and every girl a ball of wax. I wonder what our mothers think, watching us plummet; I wonder if they ever dreamed about the ocean floor.

 

Jeni De La O is the author of Lady Parts (2019, Grey Borders Books). She lives in Detroit and edits poetry for Rockvale Review. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming from Rattle, Fifth Wednesday, Acentos Review, Obsidian Literature & Arts in the African Diaspora and others.