My First Mistress
My first mistress was a mirror.
She was thin as winter, and an heiress.
When I smiled at her, she smiled, and when
I grimaced, she grimaced. And when
I cried, she turned my tears to silvered
strangers in the distance.
My shining party dress inside her.
My staggering drunkenness.
And when I slipped on a new pair of shoes
and fell down wearing them. Black-
eyed, and rising up again. And when
they took off my breasts: Then
she became the surface without expression
that let me stare, and never said, “What
do you think you’re staring at in there?”
Instead, she polished
my face softly with a cloth, and when
I screamed at her that I was dying, and when
I turned my back on her while she was crying
reminded me, quietly, to please
turn off the light.
I never saw the bird that perched there on my nerve, and screamed, and
woke me from a dream so thick and sweet that, even in the dream, I
found that I was eating it off
the floor with a rag, like
Jesus. What kind of bird was this? It wasn’t even close to dawn. The night
was all lit up with all its dust on fire, and then, my God, that cry:
Again! And I
went to the window to find only the moon out there, appearing
undignified, as if she, too, had just
in the sky. Both
of us naked, startled, bald, confused, and disgusted with the other’s
unflattering surprise. Did you
think you were going to be able to keep forever, as if it mattered, you fool?
Who canned her summer peaches
in her own tears. Fruit
made of daylight, and then
shelved it in a cellar for thirty years.
We found those jars along with all
the other things she’d hidden—
in yellowed dresses—
after she was dead. Distant
thunder in the morning
followed by a downpour.
The lights went out.
They came back on again.
“Dear God,” my mother said, turning
to find me with a Mason jar
flashing in my hands. “Do
not take the lid off that thing, Laura.”
But, I did. Of course. I had.
LAURA KASISCHKE has published nine collections of poetry—most recently The Infinitesimals. For her book, Space, In Chains, she received the National Book Critics Circle Award. She has also published eight novels. She teaches at the University of Michigan.