Spoiling – Nicole Rollender

When the cold season’s first-born calf
is white, winter will be long, deep-snowed—

this is how my mother whispers to me
in her lap. This walking back over her tracks

in snow or spring mud, to smear out
which way she had come. You never knew

who’d measure your footprint with a red
string, hexing you as it burned. This is how

I learned women were: if you crossed
them, they cursed you. They’d send a swarm

of bees to settle on your roof, so it caught
fire from the eaves down. They’d bring a white

moth into your house, its flight hidden
in a netted bag. The first person to see it

shadowing on the ceiling sickened. A bee,
a moth, spilled salt, small messengers

of spoiling. Because this what women did:
they learned to hold the living inside their

cold. And they did it to sisters who married
the man they wanted, their mothers who gave

a raccoon coat on Wigilia to the oldest sister.
I’ve wondered if my grandmother bent over

my mother’s crib, promising not to spoil her—
spoil meaning, I pressed her baby foot into a bowl

of mud, and buried it under the porch. When I
wake at night, I’m telling you I can feel her

hands on my neck, this grandmother I’ve
pushed back by spitting on the ground

she walked. I think then she must have taken
part of my mother, this baby who broke

her body so she could never have more girls.
An eye for an eye, all you bring me is a bone, she

yelled on her death bed. And was finally still.
I’m happy my daughter doesn’t yet know

to fear what’s so quiet in death. That
the body is full of holes the dead

look in and out, because the ones who
hold us the hardest lay acacia leaf in our mouths

to remind us how they’re working between
our bones.

Nicole Rollender is the author of the poetry chapbooks Absence of Stars (forthcoming July 2015, dancing girl press & studio), Little Deaths (forthcoming November 2015, ELJ Publications), and Arrangement of Desire (Pudding House Publications). She’s the recipient of CALYX Journal’s 2014 Lois Cranston Memorial Prize, the 2012 Princemere Journal Poetry Prize, and Ruminate Magazine’s 2012 Janet B. McCabe Poetry Prize for her poem “Necessary Work,” chosen by Li-Young Lee. Her poetry has been published or is forthcoming in The Adroit Journal, Alaska Quarterly Review, Best New Poets, Harpur Palate, MiPOesias, and THRUSH Poetry Journal, among others. She received her MFA from the Pennsylvania State University, and currently serves as media director for Minerva Rising Literary Journal and as editor of Stitches magazine, which won a Jesse H. Neal Award from American Business Media. Find her online at www.nicolerollender.com.

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