This selection, chosen by guest editor Shlagha Borah, is from Of the Forest by Linda Ferguson, released by The Poetry Box in 2022.
content warning for suggestion of child sexual assault
Of the Forest
Maybe I was in my room after school. Maybe I was erasing my answer to a math problem. Maybe I was eating the tuna sandwich I couldn’t swallow at lunch. Maybe I was on my feet, arms stretched, neck long, pretending I was a swan. Maybe I heard him approach. Maybe he slunk in like a wolf, smelling of bruises and bent nails. Maybe a small brown bear crouched beside him, smelling of wool and berries and warm earth. Maybe the wolf and bear said I was a bird. Maybe they said I should pluck off all my feathers for them: the plaid wool, the cable knit, the cotton. Maybe the wolf and bear circled. Maybe they smiled. Maybe I shrank. Maybe I froze. Maybe I said no and no and no. Maybe they shrugged and left me alone: safe, untouched, a trifle. Maybe I cowered on my rose-print bed. Maybe I called for them to come back. Maybe they pretended not to hear. Maybe I wasn’t worth the trouble. Maybe I was pampered, privileged, put up on a pedestal by an adoring father. Maybe I was weak, ugly, uncoordinated, prevaricating, a liar. Maybe I imagine things today. Maybe I think I’m the blur of a hummingbird’s wings, but I’m really a crow’s bristling beak pecking at soggy French fries in the street. Maybe there’s blood on my claws and carrion caught between my teeth. Maybe I’m in a cage. Maybe I built the cage myself. Maybe there are three hundred locks on the door of the cage but no key. Maybe there’s one lock and three hundred keys. Maybe, when I’m hungry enough, I’ll bite my way through the cage’s iron bars. Maybe, when I’m strong enough, I’ll kick open its door. Maybe, when I’m loud enough, I’ll howl in the presence of bears and wolves. Maybe, when I’m reckless enough, I’ll ask to see their hidden scars. Maybe, if I live long enough, I’ll move among my fellow creatures with an easy breath and a long spine, inhabiting the forest that’s theirs and yours and also mine.
Shlagha Borah (she/her) is a poet from Assam, India. Her work appears in Salamander, Nashville Review, Identity Theory, Longleaf Review, Variant Literature, Rogue Agent, and elsewhere. She is pursuing an MFA in Poetry at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and is an Associate Poetry Editor at Grist. She has received support for her work from Brooklyn Poets and Sundress Academy for the Arts. She is the co-founder of Pink Freud, a student-led collective working towards making mental health accessible in India.
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