Last week’s post was an essay by M. Brett Gaffney exploring the intersections of horror, poetry, and empowerment: They’re All Going to Laugh at You: Finding Voice Through Horror and Poetry. This week, we have two of Gaffney’s poems for you to feast your eyes on.
Outside the Haunted House, A Dancing Doll
She works the latex mask like she’s plucking a harp,
fingers trembling the air, as if she’ll pull music
from the wisps of hair, tangled knots left over
from the night before when she twirled
in the frigid wind, reminding little girls
how dolls grow dirty when they’re left to the dark.
Her eyes painted black as ash, the woman
who becomes the doll slips on her costume,
dress and skin a picture of porcelain,
less breakable. Rosy cheeks and rosy lips,
she dances to a music box tune. Children
are drawn to her, wide-eyed owls,
their parents hiding behind the flash of a camera.
And then, like most beautiful things,
one night, the woman falls.
Instead of catching her, the crowd
shuffles gravel to make room
for her collapse, for the ghost
who’s become all too human,
their fantasy broken to the ground.
Blood and panic flood beneath her mask, unseen,
her slit of a mouth whispering clouds like loose cotton.
The children snatch at her breath, quick,
with their candy-wrapped hands, as if she’ll still bite.
As if this were all just part of the show.
Later, after eight stitches and a head full of pain.
the woman returns to her doll to find
a matching scar, a crack in the mask
that she realizes now had always been there,
like a promise made in a dark mirror,
a sister calling her name, once, twice–
I am thinking of buying a tarantula,
an animal I am not altogether comfortable
with. And yet the way it devours a roach
makes me weak in the knees. The crunch
and quick death, all those legs around
the bug, teeth wedged deep.
I’d love a few of those fuzzy Ts around
to keep watch, guard my apartment
against the fat palmettos under the sink,
in the dark of my sneakers—to be free
of fear, their antennas somehow centered
on the little girl I used to be, the one
with hair knotted by some boy’s
chewing gum by the end of Tuesday class,
how my mother cut it out with scissors
while I shed the skin of my fingers
till blood painted my nails like the other girls’,
until my broken braid dropped
in a soft heap to the bathroom floor.
I do not want to be the roach.
Let me be the tarantula. Let me grow
back the colors I’ve lost, orange
or exotic blue, my fur as dangerous
as fiberglass in the eye, fangs hidden
in a mouth you can’t see and sharp
enough to pierce the widest wings.
Let me speak in a foreign language
you can only understand when I want you to,
my hiss trembling your bones, the turmoil
of a tornado sky before your roof has flown
and all your secrets revealed like the inside
of a dollhouse. Let me have eight eyes
and eight legs. Let me be the tarantula
or at the very least, allow me the courage to bring
one home and the fortitude to feed it roaches.
M. Brett Gaffney, originally from Houston, Texas, holds an MFA in Poetry from Southern Illinois University and is the art editor for Gingerbread House. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Exit 7, Penduline, Permafrost, Devilfish Review, Still: the Journal, Fruita Pulp, museum of americana, BlazeVOX, and Zone 3 among others. Her chapbook, Feeding the Dead, is forthcoming in 2016 from Porkbelly Press. She currently works as a library associate in northern Kentucky and lives in Cincinnati with her partner and their dog, Ava.