GETTING INTO CARS WITH STRANGERS
I was thirteen the first time, unwilling
to walk uphill, the highway’s asphalt baked by July.
What did your mother think, friend
I have not thought of in years, when she saw
us hop from a pickup truck
skip to the lake’s edge laughing?
The nerve of us:
still hairy, barely breasted— every man
father or brother, eyes gentle and mouths uncruel.
Years later, it’s New Year’s Eve and snowing.
The cabs refused to run and so you and I walked,
thumbed the first car—
a young cop, who says we are foolish
(we are also drunk), then sits us behind lattice screen
to drive us home.
When he unlocks the back seat,
I think I’ve never had a man
open the door for me before.
And the other nights, too, stranded by the bus or too drunk
to drive, babbling conversations as I attempted to remember
faces and names, like a smart girl would
only to forget them all
as I stumbled across the threshold.
Then months of hiking by thumb, kidding myself
it was pilgrim’s progress up and down Schlossberg
speaking broken dialect with farmers
or men without their children.
The only things that saw me
were crossroad crucifixes and cows
and their dumb, hooded eyes.
How did I not die?
Twenty-six and still breathing; fucking
a guy to get rid of him, or hands demanding
parts of me, a man yelling on the street.
The odds stacked against my body
and me, yet somehow we did it—
THE HOUSE OF THE WITCH
I didn’t ask to be made of sweetness:
beans of impossible jelly, floor
lacquered with sugar. My windows stared
at each child, asking them to turn.
The other animals knew to skirt this clearing.
Rain charmed from my gumdrop walk.
I was made to swallow, to bear teeth on my walls.
I was hungry, too:
company, a fire
in my licorice hearth, some meat carving
powdered air. There are so many children
we didn’t eat, bones that grew thick
big; brittle then wormed. Now nothing
no teeth to dismantle me bite by bite
a testament to my nature.
THE GUESTS ______________ THEMSELVES BY THE ROARING FIRE
One student says it’s immolate—
doesn’t that mean to warm?
Some have studied Vietnam.
I ask them
to explain to the class
have you seen pictures
have you seen pictures
of the monk?
lotus-kneed, showered in gasoline.
People bowing to him, silent
but for his flesh
Why would he do that, Miss?
In the classroom, the smell:
burning newspaper, ash
How can I ask them
what they think—
what have I loved
what have I wanted
Brynn Downing currently serves as the thirty-fourth writer-in-residence at St. Albans School in Washington, DC. She received her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College, where she also directed the Sarah Lawrence College Poetry Festival. You can find her online at brynndowning.com. Selected by Dawn Lundy Martin.
Image via manhhai via Flickr Creative Commons.