I wept for my home-skerry,
for the seabirds who dove there
naked as frost, for my sisters
who thrashed lithe and dripping
on the quay to swallow herrings
whole, for the sea’s pitch and ding
as a squall headed for headland.
Thirteen skinless summers I combed
the machair for the key my husband
buried while he hauled his heavy
creel up from the sea, and when
he slunk home I sometime begged
ochone on his whiskey-plugged
ears. Until one night, finally,
I unfastened the barley-kist
in the dead of evening and found
my stolen speckled pelt. I changed
as quick and bright as a storm.
I paddled back into the pretty belly
of my stream. It’s an evil man
who calls the hunt, a fisted heart
that wishes violence and chokes
the slender fishes with blood. That
husband butchered my sisters one by one,
and I watched as their hides washed up
on the moorland. There’s no ocean
now could hold my grief, no moon
round enough: I won’t stop until
the salt glows red—until men’s
split bones ring this island.
No matter how often it’s run, the ceiling fan
collects dust. Mother calls twice a week
and reminds me to drag out the garbage,
to vacuum the good rug. I drive back and forth
to the pharmacy, the grocery store, the gas station,
to a neighbor’s house where we eat slack vegetables
off plastic trays by an empty swimming pool.
Sometimes I remember nothing about the ride—
the yards, the trees—can’t remember whether
I used my turn signal, whether I fed the dogs.
Someone emptied my drawer full of pens last night.
Someone left all the blinds clicked open.
I told Father about the scratching
inside the curtains. The ghost is taller
than you, I said, and stronger.
While we are sleeping, it chews
our hair. First he said a light
and I had to tell him that the ghost
isn’t afraid of the light or the dark,
or even the rain. It steals our combs
and clip-on earrings. Then he said
a song, but I refused: The ghost
collects our fingernail clippings
from the carpet— And then he cried
Enough! (and the whole house
trembled like a feather then)
There is no ghost! But I have seen
it in the mirror when you hold us
over the sink to brush our teeth.
Rachel Marie Patterson is the Co-Editor of Radar Poetry (www.radarpoetry.com). She holds an M.F.A. from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and is a Ph.D. candidate in English and Creative Writing at the University of Missouri, where she was the recipient of an Academy of American Poets Prize. Her recent poems appear in Smartish Pace, Parcel, Nashville Review, Thrush Poetry Journal, storySouth, and others. Her chapbook, If I Am Burning, was released by Main Street Rag in 2011.