There are white flowers in her garden that smell
like menstrual blood. They sear her head, crack
open pain against her temples, remind her
of the white roses a boy brought once.
In the night, she awoke to find herself
breathing mummified petals.
Allergens, she learned, were potent, eternal.
She threw out both the blossoms and the boy.
When she discovers the blood she is not
surprised. Every bloom gets stained somehow;
why shouldn’t they bleed out?
When she realizes the truth—a cat has found its prey—
she blinks, disturbed. The branches shake, the dead bird
drops into her hand. Its body scalds her flesh, feathers
brushing her skin like morticians’ fans. She tilts
the corpse to the brick walk, lets the bones crunch.
Inside, the faucet water won’t abate the burning,
& she sticks her fingers and wrists into the freezer,
rests them against ice. There, she dreams
of being frozen clean, how wonderful it would be
to become a scentless bloom, singular in a vase
of Lucite, only appearing to be water. How wonderful
to remain untouched, no specks of red staining
her white dress. She grows thirsty, weeping over
the fragility of bones, and begins to lick the cubes
to chill her tongue, to stop the flow of heat from inside her.
Along the Tippecanoe River in Winter
ghosts (although the time
of missing you is long gone)
in the air
white porcelain, sheets
clean underwear, shoelaces,
in an open drawer
the folded note
(embossed with initials)
lying patient next to the needles
and scissors and thread.
Your mother taught you to sew
in winter with careful cross stiches,
up and over,
under and over—
turn the ground
when mica catches sunlight
it burns the eye
living tissue to scars
that radiate, fracturing,
like black ice cracks,
in crusted snow sink
like eye sockets
into the skulls
Every time I smell a mango, I spiral
into my uncle’s kitchen.
I’m seven, and my aunt is chopping open
the fruit on the counter.
Its thick perfume mixes with her oniony skin.
She and the fruit are exotic, strange and beautiful.
Her black hair, teak skin, California
sunlight streaming in
from the window above the sink.
Years later, I learn she was only seventeen,
a Thai prostitute my forty-year-old uncle
brought home from Viet Nam.
Was it rescue or captivity? I can’t know and he, she,
my parents, are no longer here
to answer that essential question.
He made all his money selling illegal goods.
There was an eerie adult calm
in their apartment, a held breath.
The sound of Sinatra filtered over ice
clinking into glasses,
over the opulent Persian carpets,
and Chinese vases.
There were intricate ivory figurines—lions and dragons
and geishas— on glass shelves. Mesmerized,
I would imagine terrible adventures for these women
I was forbidden to touch.
Once, when he and my father went to buy fish for dinner,
my aunt and I sat crossed-legged on the floor
passing a ripe plum
between us, fruit juice running down our wrists,
the yellow flesh bright against our teeth.
We giggled like the girls we were.
Then, she moved like a graceful dancer to a shelf
and lowered a carved pagoda.
I slid a sticky finger over the finial
which gently pricked me.
Later, under my uncle’s
uncomfortable, inscrutable stare, I savored the taste
of the secret while the room filled
with the aroma of curry and oranges and fish.
Christine Butterworth-McDermott is the author of Woods & Water, Wolves & Women and serves as the head editor for the online journal, Gingerbread House Literary Magazine. Her poems have appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Cimarron Review, Cider Press Review, The Normal School, Southeast Review, and others. She teaches creative writing and fairy tales at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas.