Sestina for the Losing

Women in my family sleep

calm as blood-root—slowly curled, hands across chests.

In bleached-out dream when fever breeds

we feed our hair to the folds of fire, lose our humid heads

on sheets so black. Mum’s sheets blackest, yes Mum

allows herself to stain, to fail,

shakes her pillow, all thunder and failure

on eiderdown, on bloody fleece. In sleep

when does my body shake like Mum.

Do our spines know the incense in our chests,

do our spines know of horses, wet windows, things that die in jars. Hotheaded,

we piss green tea, spew honeyed mucus, thickened bee bread,

and I lean over the toilet, heave sourdough bread.

The eruption, the flare-up, my head on porcelain. I failed

my tired neck. I was done. Rest my head—

this will be all right. Flu-fever remembers long sleeps

when I was lucky, sixteen, flat-chested,

my head on porcelain. My bile fistfuls of autumn mums.

Skirts taken in at the waist, in at the waist, in and in, and Mum

leftover-mothering me. Mum a dying fire, embered,

fixed me constant pancakes, flour heavy in my chest

souring like oregano oil on the backs of tongues. Mum wanted me to fail

at bulimia, the losing. I used to love the losing. I’d lose my throat to sleep,

cut my hair so no one knew it was falling. Heat rose from my thinning head,

there was every bit less of me. Our faucets, rusting cherub heads,

eyes unsplit, spilling. Mum does not doubt their death. Mum

soaps my arms, soap down the drain like sleep,

like bile, burns pores clean, freckles thorned, rough and red.

We can never make sense of morning. Morning is light, the frail

skin of the boy who laid hands on my chest

in high school wanting, the times I was richest

in all wanting. A body will sleep and sweat, heads

back to a wanting. If I mother myself quiet, I will fail

into rivers, I will river in sweat, these healthy stains, sap unforgiving as Mum—

she is all the times I wasn’t kind. The times I was no thought, all breath.

A body is reminded in sleep

how to fail a dream. Waking stinks like stitches, the breath of Mum,

her mouth black thread on my chest, my hips. My head

cannot split, cannot breed clean thought, cannot stray from diamond-hard sleep.

Skip to content