My father arranged me to frame despair
in the shape of a shell–
he said it
would make me look pretty
as he dropped my gutted pearl
into the water,
closed me in his palm,
and took me home for dinner.
I’d curl up in my empty body late at night
when the heater kicked in
and line my dolls up on the smooth
belly of the shell,
sweating and organizing and kissing them,
trying to make room, trying to love
and a forgotten piece in me would move–
like an isolated bubble, a pressure in my chest rising
until it hardened into a globe of glass,
and I fingered the marble
in my pocket each time he made me nervous.
My skin hardened into porcelain.
My lips a painted curve.
The girl in the womb and the doll in the house
looked at each other in the mirror,
and I was the mirror
I was a million different faces;
this cannot be explained any other way.
I became the dolls on my bed and
in their small house in the corner
I became their holidays and patterned wallpaper;
I became the patterns of my behavior–
trained, obedient, good.
I became the shell at the dinner table,
sucking up silence like the ocean.
I told myself
if I had nothing,
that’s what would come back.
And getting nothing back
meant you didn’t have to love.
And what was love to that girl
with her marble
and no pearl.