Kelli Allen


The holy women are skinny, their hair
loose horse tails swishing blind
between what could be shoulder blades,
or remnants of hard wings, forgotten,
lost, shed. The blessed women weep
with sharp tears leaving troughs
from cheek to knee, borrowed sorrow
of winter bears, scarce badgers.

When they allow their fingers to play
at reeds, lips curled into kissing sound,
it is the forest floor they are feeding, never
the openness of sky above, where crows
keep vigil. Music is for the faithful, for mammals
whose hind paws catch the bread we drop
in error, to find our way home.


They held her down, face in the loose dirt near home plate, a few hours after
dusk, and took turns, first one boy, then the second, until she was sufficiently
split, and they spent, quickly as boys inherently are. She had bruises, of course,
and there was blood, and she remembers crying enough to create a mud paste
where she kept her cheek imprinted until certain she was alone. Alone
in a way new to her, apart even, from the heaviness between her legs
to the lead of her hair, matted, losing its soft wave to damp dust and growing dark.

She told me this story, with no variation in tone or length, from the time my own
first bleeding announced itself, to four days before my wedding. Offered as warning
of a man’s need/evil/hatred/desire/greed, any of the words most demonic,
and, for her, most base. There was nothing eloquent about my mother.

Believing stories carries us down the quickest waters into one pool after another
of calm , of stations resembling rest, sometimes clarity. Hers was the truest myth—
the kind wherein there is no happy resolution, just a lesson to move forward
or submit to slow burning, fading, erasure. Truth comes later, after the ever-after
has expired into crumbs, too stale to consume, too fine to walk over with soft feet.

As with all myth, my mother’s story, a woman’s story, held only a richly imagined
disaster. The betrayal was never in the telling, rather in the final admission
that her belief in this swirl of detail was vaporous, a landscape unseen, weirdly
desired, needed for her to feel whole, rooted. This is the gift given to her daughter:
Faith in what is repeated, recognition that branches break from weight we offer


Who points the way, holds out a gloved hand
with a single, simple sign stating This way?
What book officially begs us to give attention
to a list of rules which includes You may only ask
one question of the steward? What if the answer
to both queries has been carved in shallow print
into soap stone ever nearing the shoreline’s
inevitable lick and curl? We should admit
there is sense in answers near wetness. Swallowing
is its own sign—a reflex won at birth, repeated
with every phrase, every taken pleasure.

I think of this as ghosting. What came before
certainly does not wish for us to forget
and so offers a seeding of questions, which we embrace
without intention, and this I call, not paranoia,
rather knowing-lust. That radiance we suspect
has been threaded into our every lysosome, namelessly,
unearned, ours as a right of carrying cells upon
cells until we think we might be whole, is never
really new and so we keep vigil for signifiers.


Kelli Allen’s work has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies in the US and internationally. She served as Managing Editor of Natural Bridge and holds an MFA from the University of Missouri. She is currently a Professor of English and Creative Writing at Lindenwood University. Allen gives readings and teaches workshops throughout the US. Her full-length poetry collection, Otherwise, Soft White Ash, from John Gosslee Books (2012) was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.