Three Poems by Lauren Bender

Weakling

It’s habit to lift my head
at the sound of certain voices,

women who walk by like farmers
with toughened arms, ready

to find anything slightly off
and set it right. It’s habit

to shift and whine with anxiety.
One of them stops to consider

creep feeding me, the scale
of weakness of my mother, or

they will call her the creature
who birthed me, because once

expelled, I stood up on my shaky
frame alone, and wind forked

through the grass, the only sound
in the large, strange world. Why

call for a calf when you never
needed it? The woman watching me

gathers grains, oats, salt from
sacks and scatters them in half

circles at my feet. Get thee
happy, she whispers. This life

is yours. You will not have
another. I don’t know her words

but recognize the insistence.
From the moment I opened my eyes,

there has been no end to begging.
Sometimes it is nothing but

a disappointed silence, but
still tart with clarity, fear,

the need to force others to care
what happens to them and if

there’s time, why. I did not ask
for this kind of love. I would have

gone another way, not through
the tunnel, not shivering in your

sight, not this odd nourishment
in the dirt like an assigned purpose.

the personality

can change / she can turn to an urge to hurt in the event of sound / endless repetitive screaming / when the cry cuts the night at intervals / one / two / three / four / (stop / counting / what will go on forever) / the personality can

murder / can change / can strangle with all the rage she has learned

over the summer / she has learned to touch what is pulled from the earth / she has learned to run dry and laughing / at the lack of fluid / spring to life in the morning for another clean / very clean day

pacing like a pro / she has learned to cool the engine and run less / red lights in her exhaustion / she has learned to release release / hands open at home / where there is never enough time to wring herself through

late hours of roughing / her throat raw / she has learned to delete hormones / she has loaded a gun and learned to shoot it / but it won’t shoot / no satisfying explosion / only an ongoing leak of faint smoke, sprinkled

ash falling / meanwhile autumn / cats sipping coffee / pumpkins in oversize sweaters with sleeves / dragging in holiday gratitude / apply salted caramel gloss / apply apple scented wax / she has learned to love

spoons brimming sweetness / and not to love the future / if it asks for too much before it will give anything / back inside and not concerned with gods wrenching metal from the main frame / the personality

can take herself apart and she will feel / nothing but strong

ties to the bottomless / which is a new infinity / and beats integrity / time and

again / into submission / she has learned to stop hearing what is not / tunnel air whistling by / and this dropping through darkness / no less a measure of progress / than moving forward

Where Is She?

I didn’t want to tell her how much I liked hiding
or taking myself somewhere untouchable,
                                       because god, how obvious
          that girl would become this exact adult.

I climbed trees until I was certain you’d have to
call the fire department to drag me down again.
                                       You were not worth
          descent, even less so when desperate.

I slid the manhole cover off and lowered myself
into the sewer, appraised its walls and tunnel
                                       and slick filth. I let a girl
          starve there and stick around as a ghost,

somewhat friendly, if empty and sad. Little boy,
don’t go, but also, you’re not dead and your story
                                       will never be as important
          as a dead girl’s. The dead and the missing

and the invisible are our heroes. I crawled,
hands and knees, under the back deck, ducking
                                       spiders and squeezing
          clumps of dirt in my fists so they could

break apart to gray-brown clouds. I crawled
into the center of shrub walls and called them
                                       sanctuaries, I crawled
          to the middle of clothing racks

in department stores, nested in dresses, held
cold silver bars, and sang songs in my head
                                       as entertainment
          while I waited for you to notice

and panic. I tucked myself into closets, pulled
myself over fences, even ours with its functional
                                       unlocked gate, not
          nearly enough of a challenge.

I snuck onto private property and discovered
more inaccessible holes and heights and when
                                       you said, don’t,
          when the neighbors said, control

your child, my first thought was of becoming
spy, was, what windows are they watching from,
                                       I’ll avoid those,
          I’ll keep low, as if running bent over

meant anything other than looking silly. Then
anger, then aging, then fuck you all and other
                                       ways of being hidden,
          like writing all my secrets on paper

along with some of yours and turning it in
as the homework assignment. Now, I thought,
                                       all they can do
          is grade me on how well I describe

dysfunction. And they were good grades, with
words scribbled in the margins, “Beautiful!”
                                       “you should be
          a writer!” Well, if I could not be an animal,

burrowing and burrowing away from this life,
it would do. There were always more secrets.
                                       Last week I stashed
          this awkward tall body under a desk

for old times’ sake, running my eyes across
the patterns in its fake wood. It’s been too long
                                       to pretend I believe
          in the power acquired withholding

my presence. But diminishment, as you may
guess, is addictive. For a minute I was high
                                       on defiance, what with
          a perfectly normal chair gone to waste.

Lauren Bender lives in Burlington, VT. Her work has appeared in IDK Magazine, The Collapsar, Gyroscope Review, Pittsburgh Poetry Review, Yes Poetry, and others. You can find her on twitter @benderpoet.

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