Photo Credit: Jon Beckley
On a Scale of One to Ten
I don’t know how to count
the times my father showed me how
men hide their love, how mercy can be contained
in quiet gestures. How many times did he
pile too much food onto my plate, or
pick an eyelash from my cheek
asking me to make a wish?
Only once did he have to
put his finger down my throat
to make all my mistakes come back up
on a bathroom floor. Taught me
palms can be both cruel and forgiving
when he pushed them into my chest,
listened for my breath
the same impatient way
he listened for my lungs
when they lifted me
meconium-wet from my mother.
When the nurse asks me to place my pain
on a scale of one to ten,
I’m seventeen in a room
of adolescent suicide artists.
The bulimic girl that braids
on a scale of one to ten
my hair like we’re at a sleepover
tells me how she did it
with a box-cutter in her garage
while her family was at Pizza Hut.
The goth chick says she
learned to tie rope knots
from Girl Scout magazines.
I grew up hiding
matches from my mother
so she wouldn’t burn the house down.
My father said I was just like her.
I could let a glass slip out my hand, stare
too hard at him or at a spider before killing it,
could slip into her dresses and zip
their spines up over my body without any struggle.
I lined up barbiturates on the counter
and counted backwards until I couldn’t
because on a scale of one to ten, how many times
did I watch her strike a match to life
to let its yellow head burn
down to the tips of her fingers
until the living room smelled like skin and sulfur,
and the tabletop was scarred with spent
bodies of matchsticks?
On a scale of one to ten, who cares how you measure it.
The cheerleader says it was just an accident.
The girl that never sleeps writes
her six-month-old daughter’s name
over and over on the chalkboard
in the rec room like some kind
of punishment. At some point,
we all get sick of counting.
Krysten Hill is an educator, writer, and performer who has showcased her poetry on stage at the Boston Book Festival, Merrimack College, The Massachusetts Poetry Festival, and many others. She received her MFA in poetry from UMass Boston where she currently teaches. Her work can be found or is forthcoming in apt, The Baltimore Review, B O D Y, Word Riot, Muzzle, PANK, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Winter Tangerine Review and elsewhere. She is the recipient of the 2016 St. Botolph Club Foundation Emerging Artist Award. Her chapbook, How Her Spirit Got Out, received the 2017 Jean Pedrick Chapbook Prize.
Krista Cox is a paralegal and poet living in northern Indiana. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Pittsburgh Poetry Review, The Indianola Review, Whale Road Review, and Pirene’s Fountain, among other places in print and online. She twice received the Lester M. Wolfson Student Award in Poetry, and has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize. In her abundant spare time, Krista parents, paints, and plans community events as the Program Director of Lit Literary Collective. Learn more than you ever wanted to know about her at kristacox.me.
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