Testing a Pattern
I’ve watched someone who needed air
pitch a loose fist through her own window.
It was the second time I watched her die.
My mouth is a window open.
I hang heavy toile curtains—a scene
of a shepherd carrying an animal dead
upside down. Its lungs are closed.
You see it if you look for it.
I wake up every morning surprised
I’m alive. My breastbone pops, an instrument
warming up. If I said, there’s more living
than dying. If I said, it’s easier to surrender.
The way my mother’s hand holds the back
of my father’s seat in the car when
she pulls out of a parking space
and how he flinches like he can feel it.
I made my hands
into bird baths.
A crowd of cedar
into the lines,
skirted my fingers.
I made my cedar
children. I cooked
them stovetop dinners.
I washed their mouths
before teaching them.
I made my children
by saying I don’t
want light too
many times. I said,
this body won’t.
I made my candles
into calm deaths.
The floating candle—
a river drowning.
a one-story house fire.
I made my deaths
into houses in a row.
I walked into each one
and only my life shined
against the windows—
four panel shadows.
I made my houses
I ruined them. I did
it by memory.
How do you say
danger without saying
Swim, Swam, Swum
They locked me in—a string of boys
lining four rows of corn and their smiles
pushing against the stalks, bright
and polished. The stars were on.
To feel the crop crash against a body
that belonged, that I didn’t want—
their shoulders, white, shoving
their way through the air.
His cheeks, red or pink
from youth or embarrassment. Was he
embarrassed. Did he know what his hands
shouldn’t do. Did one of them hesitate.
I learned how to close
off when I was six, how to swim out.
Jenny Sadre-Orafai (she/her) is a poet and essayist and the author of Paper Cotton Leather, Malak, and Dear Outsiders and co-author of Book of Levitations. Her poetry has appeared in Puerto del Sol, Cream City Review, Ninth Letter, and The Cortland Review. Her prose has appeared inThe Rumpus, Fourteen Hills andThe Los Angeles Review. She co-founded and co-edits Josephine Quarterly and teaches creative writing at Kennesaw State University.