Silent Centers

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.

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