The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Sheila Squillante’s “Beautiful Nerve”

Squillante Pic


The children watch TV in the back room under a low roof
under which no adult can stand. Their eyeballs flicker
in small round rows. Everything glows. The children sit
watching, the TV black and white, soundless. Something
with guns. Something with long dust-filled landscapes, dry
shrubs, dusty clouds blown around their eyes. These are not
my dust-bunnies
, you think, watchful of the clock. The kids
are too many and you are not yet promised to anyone. The
bears are also too many—three, as if this were a story—and
they enter under your watch; lumber in from winter slumber,
head on back. You are passed. You are not to be counted
among. You climb the stairs, thighs thick and animal-heavy,
glance backwards at the back room, at the many, at the hair,
the muscle, jaws moving toward.

Upstairs your father lies on his bed, fingers the clicker,
seems elsewhere. The dust-bunnies, you tell him. The bears,
you yawn. They amass on the stairs. They mount your fears.
TV on in two rooms and eyeballs flicker like small stars
under a story-sky. You lock yourself in your child-room,
blue shag carpet and mattress-ticking walls. Palm mahogany
poster bed, glass-top dresser on which opals broke in
winter’s cold. Pass me by, you beg. I am not at hand. 

Your father hears your screams and rattles the door. The
bears hear your screams and rattle the door. You open the
door to the closet to find the window still there. The shade
is drawn and this is the wrong room. This is not the window
that overlooked the street, the fire in the gutter, the sledders
down the icy boulevard. This is not the night the woman held
her small son over her head as they crashed, her leg a good
brake, into the dark oak. You were kept inside. Your father
was supposed to be the hero in this story. The kids in the
back room watch TV and the bears, heavy, descend.

This selection comes from Sheila Squillante’s book Beautiful Nerve, available now from Tiny Hardcore Press. Purchase your copy here!

Sheila Squillante is a poet and essayist living in Pittsburgh. Author of BEAUTIFUL NERVE as well as three chapbooks of poetry, her work has appeared in journals like Prairie Schooner, Quarterly West, Phoebe, The Bakery, Thrush Poetry Journal and elsewhere. She teaches in the MFA program at Chatham University, where she also serves as editor-in-chief of The Fourth River.

Ben McClendon is a PhD student in creative writing at the University of Tennessee. He previously studied poetry at Northern Arizona University after teaching high school English for several years. His poems have appeared in Indiana Review, Yemassee, Cæsura, Chariton Review, Redivider, Rattle, and elsewhere. He is currently Assistant Poetry Editor for Grist: The Journal for Writers and a poetry editor for Four Ties Lit Review. Ben lives with his husband in Knoxville.


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