In the salt cathedral below ground,
our guide tells us couples say their vows
before the salt virgin,
in view of the salt Pope John Paul II.
Above ground, I ate zapiekankas in the Rynek Główny,
thought I tasted ghosts in the raspberry syrup
the barman pumped in my beer.
My cousin Anna gave me an amber necklace,
stories her daughter Gosia translated
into English from her mother’s native tongue.
Crammed into the Wieliczka elevator
with the other tourists and their cameras,
souvenir salt lamps and maps,
I try not to look down
as we rattle to the surface:
the ground everywhere and nowhere,
arm to arm and waist to waist,
drawn by my ancestors’ hands —
vacationers peopling the bucket.
I believe in the impression
the moon left on my makeup,
the narrow gap in October
that makes my sister a Scorpio
and me a Libra, but I do not
believe in the cookie that said
Time heals all wounds
Keep your chin up
And to think I felt sorry the cookie
was already cracked when the waitress
left it, which is why I gave my husband
the whole one and saved the broken one
for myself. My husband and I differ
in the following ritual: He believes
we must finish the cookie before
reading its contents, whereas I know
we are not the first to accept what
is freely offered — a worm can tap
out the heart of a fruit — and so I will
not indulge in what could be rotting within.
When I say it is only in photographs
that a woman is able to measure
her own transformation,
I am speaking hypothetically.
Because to behold a body at its breaking
point is as comfortless as the fortune implying
this woman has all the time in the world,
when the woman in this story is not the woman
in every story. Of what we offer this woman
to destroy, may this presumption be among them.
Excuseless, to repeatedly pass
through revolving glass doors,
the whoosh of my entrance
and exit magnificent. Call it
magic. I curate my shopping
to nude-colored clothing,
picture the witch’s legs
swallowed by a fallen house
when I flick off the fitting
room lights. I drive daily past
cemeteries. Put pressure
on the gas while holding
my breath, refusing to
exhale before I skirt past.
I am most aware
of how time flies in
the morning to the extent
it takes me to dress,
wait for my mirror to blow
me a kiss before I show it
my trick: Now watch me
pull a corpse from my hat.
Theodora Ziolkowski’s poetry and prose have appeared or are forthcoming in Glimmer Train, Arts & Letters, Prairie Schooner, and Short FICTION (England), among other journals, anthologies, and exhibits. A chapbook of her prose, Mother Tongues, won The Cupboard’s 2015 contest (judged by Matt Bell); Finishing Line Press published a chapbook of her poems, A Place Made Red, also in 2015.