The Hollows

for Real Toads “Tuesday Platform.”

This poem is based on a dream I had. I am both freaked out and excited, as a writer. 

The city in my brain when I sleep

has wide black-outs the size of

my fragmented memories. I pedal down

an alley where dirty wash buckets

get dumped out open windows above

the Section 8 apartments we

so frequently took shelter in.

These alleys are crowded and huddled—a

fictitious labyrinth but still I am fooled

into believing its constancy because of

the telephone wires and iron fire escapes.

A man at a crate, wearing overalls and a red

bandana smiles his drunken grin, scratching

his bulbous purple nose, whisking out a tissue

from a bony wrist, something familiar,

a vague scent of lilac. Something about the speed

in a humming bird’s wings, rust and oil

and tractor parts fill my head. Honeysuckle.

Yes; my father called him “Pa.”

I turn what must be southwest

judging by the sunlight glaring,

but I am not sure. Then a block down

and right—a Parisian-like corner where

the next alley intersects. Buckets

and barrels of flowers, palette displays

and chalked prices. I pedal slower.

Round soft women in purple and daffodil,

berry-stained lips and a lavender water

scent that makes me feel warm,

like the sound of my grandmother, how she

used to say I sang beautifully. She had shells

on her wallpaper in the bathroom.

Beautifully

Beautiful. In the recesses of my brain, that

specific word signals my amygdala to

get out the boxing gloves or take flight,

and then Paris disappears because of this warning,

the alley swallows me up in darkness

and into an end once the word “beautiful

grabs a hold of me, ringing in my ears

the way it did when he called me that

when I was a little girl. Not even in dreams

do we escape childhood.

This end is a brick wall, graffiti-filled and strewn

with Find Jesus and Bob Marley posters;

I turn my bike away, back toward light, an anxiety

starting to glow in my gut.

I hit a different center now, where four alleys meet,

these are all alleys now, and I choose—with “beautiful”

still hanging on my lips like a stale cigarette—to turn south.

Southeast. Cobblestone and puddles. This alley

is quiet and I feel the need to turn, but the walls

on the sides are narrowing.

My thighs just scuffing the plaster. I look ahead

because it’s too late to turn around—no room—and

I see the path before me going on and on like a tunnel

with shafts of light, then shadow, light, then shadow

where unnamed dead-end streets cross but I can’t

seem to get to them. A cracked hand

reaches out a glassless window and cold porcelain

knocks against my knuckle. I am picking up speed but

look back to see what it was, and when I turn forward

again, my bike wobbling, another white porcelain

girl. This one has a doll’s face that is white and cracked,

glued or fastened together, her head full of holes

where doll hair used to be, I back on the pedals

but roll closer

“—beautiful,” she whispers.

I am in the Hollow.

I am in the Hollow.

The song my music box played, the lyrics

I invented as I adorned my dollhouse with

magazine cut-out pictures and pizza box

end tables, and it chimes down this alley

like a wet echo. As I shake my head, her

white face shatters into mirrors

and the shards cut into my entire body.

Maybe plucking out the glass is my key

to escape; all this blood, and I keep moving.

My thoughts are causing an ache in my throat:

I know her…. Oh God I know her…”

I am breaking out into white light.

All has gone soft, the blood has clotted, and I

see what must be the exit (or entrance?—I haven’t

decided which I am looking for).

I pass beneath the linens

hanging overhead across lines strung

window to window; a woman scrapes chipped

blue china plates free of potatoes for

the chickens where ice cold water drips

from a gutter. Then a familiar smell reaches me—his

sweat mixed with a threadbare shirt and roses—

the roses that fell after his ashes into the White River

after his funeral.

I pedal closer and this young-looking man

in his mid-forites crosses his long-legged jeans

at the cowboy boots, his hat tipped to shade

a well-sculpted face.

He sleeps.

I know his chin because I have it too.

A slight indentation, a dimple. His wallet has fallen

and I slow down to pick it up but then there’s

the humming birds flitting and darting around me

and then up to the sun. I take bandages from his wallet

but all he has are tiny ones for children. I start covering

the cuts, wiping the blood on what now appears to be

overalls that I am wearing and I am walking up

a dirt driveway towards the lilacs and bird feeder.

I walk up to the chin-dimpled cowboy.

This is all a dream, I know, but this is always

the part I have come for

but never reach—

the part I seek every time I face my reflection.

I walk up to him—

“Dad, can people save each other?”

He smiles and hands me my doll, and I abandon

him, running for the lilac’s green lagoon under

the kitchen window Pa sits at. I take out a pocketknife

and gouge at my doll’s pretty eyes so she can’t see.

I hack her hair and pull until small yellow piles are at my feet—

pleasure filling me as I take away her beauty;

I cut at her mouth as my power takes her voice.

I cry and shake her as my wounds reopen

from the glass and it’s my blood

coming out of her.

“beautiful…” my father says.

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