Erinn Batykefer


I hate my head and want it cut from me.

In every moment—walking to work or mailing a letter,
washing the sheets—I am on my knees,
begging for something sharp as Emily’s poem
to shear me open.

The whole time we talked, I watched
you flicker like an old movie.

Between the frames of you telling stories
on the other side of a butcher block
table, I saw another scene:
your body arcing
through an axe swing.

I could not see
where the blade would come down, but wanted it
on the neck of a sleek white mink hunched
in the bull’s eye ring of a stump—

the same way I kneel by my bedside,
imagine the chill kiss of steel on my nape
and wait.


She had scratched through her skull during the night—and all the way into her brain.
           “The Itch,” The New Yorker, June 30th 2008

What is a skull but boning to cinch
the brain, force thoughts
into a wasp-waist bottleneck
where dead things and tea-stained lengths of lace
get caught?

I want to tell you something about water.

The warm, tight smell of chlorine brings back the drowned
shock of swim lessons, the mistake of breathing
at the bottom of the deep.

When you nod, say something
about water slippery with chemicals, I want
to say I know but do I?

There are layers of bone separating our brains.
Our heads like anchorage rooms in which we sleep
on our pallets, alone, insensible
to another body inches away.
On the other side of the wall.

Imagine a world in which there is nothing
between us.

Or one in which the wall of bone between our rooms
is the temporal: so thin, your pulse and thoughts
almost pass through.

Press your hands to the cool surface. Tap your nails
on flat paint papery as a sheen of skin.
Begin scratching through.


The summer I learned how to hold my breath
and my shoes

as I ascended an unfamiliar staircase
through a blood-warm and perilous dark,

everyone I loved forgot their hungers, obsessed
as they were with magic.

It was a lot like math, the way their bodies disappeared
into white columns of smoke, became asymptotes

edging toward zero.


Skip the third step, the seventh;
let your feet touch no floorboard that will shift or creak;
climb stairs as if floating.

I mouthed Ghost, ghost as I went.

My hand twisted the doorknob by millimeters.
I came into the room like light
under the door

and let the boy there undress me like he was unwinding
bandages, the skin beneath
my gauzy tees febrile and leaping.

I made not one sound.
Not even when he asked me to.


Weightless. Soundless. Wantless.
There are many ways to zero. I am trying to be good.
I am trying not to have a body:

mother brought us up to understand the truth
is just the story most people believe,

I climbed back in my window at dawn
and when she asked where I’d been, I believed

I had gone on an early run

the same way my sisters believed they didn’t want
anything to eat.

If the boy at the top of the staircase ever spoke
of what he knew, I knew

it would sound like a lie.

Come close not too close
and I’ll tell you a secret:

like the slick plastic bodies bikinis are knotted to
in cold department stores each spring,

I am not here.

The shape you see is a placeholder. Under my clothes,
there is nothing.

How will you prove otherwise
if I never take them off?


The body is consumptive,

a furnace made to burn down
to the infinite zero.

What’s left will be white flash,
blast site, every nothing at once—
the nothing I could be

so long as no one believes you

when you say there is a girl-shaped light
burned into your retinas,

that you still see her climbing silently toward you
through the dark.


Erinn Batykefer earned her MFA from the Creative Writing Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she was the Martha Meier Renk Poetry Fellow. She also served as the Stadler Poetry Fellow at Bucknell University, and her first collection, Allegheny, Monongahela (Red Hen Press, 2009) won the Benjamin Saltman Poetry Prize. Her poems and creative nonfiction have appeared widely in such journals as FIELD, Fugue, Blackbird, and Gulf Coast. She is co-founder and editor of the Library as Incubator Project, an internationally-known website that facilitates collaborations between libraries and artists and advocates for libraries as important incubators for creativity. In 2014, Library Journal named Erinn a Mover & Shaker for her work. Erinn is the Programming Librarian at New Canaan Library in Connecticut, and is at work on a novel and a new poetry collection.