Growing up absurd in a museum without walls;
statues, empty headed, with their mad black hair,
stand in a small circle chipped and scarred.
Eyes lead into corridors, through objects, snapshots,
past a still life. On a shelf of horrors
the books are dated with the hour, day, year.
A globe that was bought to acquire its stand
joins yellowing newspapers, thirty years old,
and a social registry that dropped the family name.
Crowds tramp through as the amputated busts,
like beggars, waylay them in dirt and dust,
amid fearful smells. They stand there still,
not bronze or stone, but garden plaster.
A cast they made of a head in red clay,
like savages guarding their soul,
they are in terror of throwing away.
It is like being watched by a jealous ghost
that rattles your dreams until they've broke.
Anyone might shiver
before the sun is up
but the purgatory of my cure
stripped me of skin
I can't afford to lose.
It seems to want me
to shrug it off, this skin
like cellophane, nerve-peeled,
fingering my wounds,
trying on skin like shoes.
My hands are desperate,
gathering up papers of littered
language. Hands toy with it,
give up, fall to my lap.
My flesh falls off too.
I stay where I am, avoid
mirrors that strip me down
for real—watching tissue
come away baby-fine and raw.
Stripped down to blood and bone,
just the faintest dying little
trail of a thing. Like a door
shutting in increments,
there is less and less of me.
I take it all in, to the last inch: the immaculate house;
A glass paperweight brighter than sunrise;
War maps done in watercolor dating from very far back.
A painting done in a hotel garden has the status
Of sacred junk. Now I see the snare. Low ceilings,
Earthen floor, rust-colored walls weeping with wetness.
Spots deface the floor. A scarcely verbal caretaker
Stands very still, trying not to breathe. Chokes back
Little sounds—hunger sounds—sick and starving.
Dizzy wet, dripping liquid fire. So much want,
So much terror. She shrinks away from the glass
In the window, bids goodbye to herself in the mirror.
She returns to it. There is nowhere else to go.
"I live in Oregon with my husband and children. My poetry has most recently appeared in Poetry Magazine, The Southern Ocean Review, Crimson Feet, and LYNX." E-mail: stafford[at]open.org.