Levy Junior High, seventh grade long, dark walks to school on winter mornings world deep-bundled in snow, the game was to scuttle into the street, grab hold of the back bumper of a school bus or the bread truck,

let it pull us down the frozen roads of Syracuse, sliding toward the Eleusinian mysteries of adolescence. Mom hated that school cuz of the knife fight, but I liked it, though my shyness limited me to the sidelines, you can learn a lot from watching quietly a great art teacher taught us how much fun it is to make things from scratch

Eighth grade, another year, another school me, the quiet scholarship kid, Mom was happy cuz there were no knife fights there, no fights of any kind, unless you count the upper-school cutthroat competition for valedictorian

I was a cheerleader, can you believe it?

One-third of the base of a girl pyramid pom-pommed in modest, itchy uniforms I learned to fence with an épée studied sumacs, danced the steps of fragile friendships, but it was Mr. Edwards who changed my life,

he didn’t just teach us Greek mythology, Mr. Edwards ensorcelled us

with stories of gods and wars, mothers in search of lost daughters,

and girls fleeing rapists

by turning into trees

I wanted to stay in that school forever

cemetery girl

When not swimming, my middle school summers played out in Oakwood Cemetery where I lay

on a flat, warm tomb day after day


read read read read read read book-belly starving for pages fantastical, haunted by lost

hungry girls,

I ate red apples heavy-salted on the tomb the sleeping Victorian corpses below fed me secrets sentinel owls peered from a grove of old pines, all of us hoping, waiting on signs of the change

that was promised


My father first let me drive when I was twelve in the woods on old logging trails, only a couple times in town when he was over the limit.

I drove in sheer terror never crashed

not even a scratch in the paint he was proud of me

and that meant a lot.

My mother never knew that we forged a secret alliance in the middle of our

Cold War nuclear-family meltdown so when it was time for her to teach me how to drive I faked it, pretending I didn’t have a clue.


My mother hit me in the face for the last time

when my father lost his job lost us to the wildfire

that scorched the dining room table burned up the drapes

while bombs dropped through the ceiling You have to seriously screw up to be fired by the Church cuz love, Jesus, etc.

plus plenty of preachers play out shame mistakes in glass houses so they rarely throw stones but my dad, he was targeted by petty jealousies and for dumb mistakes, they called him on the carpet and wiped the floor with him subtle, ceremonious excommunication bell, book, and candlewise Dad’s pedestal tipped

over and he had a great fall and all of the king’s horses and all of the king’s men didn’t give a damn

I argued with him about something stupid so confused that our life was in flames Dad told me to shut up, as he stormed off I stuck out my tongue at his retreating form just as Mom came around the corner, with a mean backhand and explosive temper she hit me

I was almost as tall as she was, just as angry

and much, much stronger

we stared at each other after the blow, on the edge of annihilation, wordless combustion

but she was my mother

so I swallowed the lighter fluid and tilted my head until my face became her mirror like I said,

that was the last time

she hit me

packing for exile

We lived in the house on Berkeley Drive for seven years, long enough to sucker me into believing that was a home my mistake

when you’re a preacher’s kid, you move around a lot, don’t get to paint your walls or tape up posters; the Church buys the furniture pays the mortgage and makes all the rules.

Dad sort of disappeared.


actually, he vanished

leaving my mother

to move us

like Hercules, charged with cleaning the shit-filled stables of King Augeas, she wrestled a fast-flowing river for the dirty work refusing to carry the past with us she threw it all away

stacks of hymnals

her trombone

generations of family letters quilts, handmade syrup buckets photographs that made her eyes bleed chicken pot pies from the freezer she threw out the memories of Christmases without tears

the night she went on a rare date with my father when she wore a black dress with a white collar perfumed with Joy, lemon-tanged she tossed out watching the astronauts walk on the moon

my sister’s broken arm

me singing into a hairbrush

she dumped out Grandpa’s search for his shotgun when he realized the electroshock treatment wasn’t working, she trashed camping in the woods, fireflies dancing marshmallows toasting over the fire the only thing we packed in the moving truck were our carapaces pinned

like specimens to a corkboard

IT, part 1—gasoline

Remember the line in Speak, “And I thought for just a minute there that . . .

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