I was certain dangerous men kept the poem in their beds. While they searched me, I felt the folds of the sheets for it. I traced the seams of the mattress while they weren’t looking. I checked the pillow cases while they slept. I was sure they had found it without me when they never called again.
Once, a stranger asked me for it. I handed her the change in my pockets and walked away. It wasn’t enough for a bus ticket or a single metaphor, so she threw it hard at my back. A nickel drew blood. I left it spinning on the sidewalk and took my debts with me.
Twice, I absentmindedly braided the poem into my hair before I cut it all off. It insisted on growing back. I questioned my femininity. Other times, lonely, I chewed on it in a corner while everyone danced or loudly made love. I stuck it under desks and chairs, put it inside an old receipt and slipped it in a trashcan.
Each year that passed, I bought myself another blank journal. I parted the pages with a red ribbon. They sat on my shelf, full of quiet and hunger. Every time I re-arranged them, the paper asked where the ink was. Where was the tree? Where had the forest gone? Even the sun.
The poem lived its own life without me. It grew long legs or wings. It broke out of locked rooms and took a baseball bat to the cars on the street. It searched for boiling water and bear tracks and snapped electrical wires. Caterpillars ate all its leaves. It looked like feet turning blue, like wadded up scripture, like the last millimeter of a wick burning, and all the things I felt when I looked in the mirror. While it was out there, it was just like God.
River Elizabeth Hall (she/her) is a poet and naturalist with degrees from Fairhaven College and Antioch University Seattle. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Bear Review, Pontoon Poetry, Main Street Rag, Moist Poetry, Nimrod, Parentheses Journal and Tinderbox among others. She is a 2023 Best of the Net Nominee and winner of Tinderbox Poetry’s 2022 Majda Gama Editor’s Prize. In 2021, she was a semi-finalist in the The Floating Bridge Chapbook competition and was long-listed for both the Palette Poetry Prize and the Frontier Open. In 2019 she was a semi-finalist in the Brett Elizabeth Jenkins Poetry Prize. She is the founder of Seattle Writers Circle, an online workshop series dedicated to creating supportive community, inclusion and creative exploration for writers of all genres and abilities. Learn more about her writing and other offerings at RiverElizabethHall.com