Bronte Billings






My aunt told me she loved my uncle

because he washed all his shower-hacked mucus

down the drain every morning. They weren’t my parents

but I still cried when my aunt was too afraid

to say goodbye to her dog. My uncle kept his ashes

as a footrest. He made sure to have his dirty soles up

for my aunt to see when she left.





I hated their waterbed.

It was big and cold and it made me feel

like I was out, sliding on the waves of a too calm

ocean. I couldn’t move. Every inch of my

coddled body felt sloshing. I stranded myself

in the center of their dark room. No one ever

entered at the same time. We were

always alone.





Once, I ran away for fifteen

minutes. I tumbled out the front door, tripping

my way to the backyard and tucked myself

behind the garage. There were koi fish. I liked to watch

them. They never swam, never moved, never

made a sound. They sat under a hosed waterfall—

orange black flecks rippling with the drops.





Pericardial effusion. They said my aunt’s heart

was swimming in a river. Something like a bag

caught in a funnel of fluid. She didn’t feel anything

anymore. The doctors drained her. Her whole body

stopped drumming. She wasn’t waiting, she wouldn’t

wait, her body moved without her. It wouldn’t stay

still enough for my uncle to visit.





I had this rotting tree stump. I carved

a smile into the deteriorating bumps. Wood grains

moved in melted streaming splints. I squealed

at the fire ants that stormed out. They crawled up my arms

in red panicked trails. I watched the ants make a home

in me. I tried to imagine myself filled

with water so everything tunneling

in me would drown.


BRONTE BILLINGS lives in Northeast Ohio with her not so balding black cat beauty. She earned her MFA in poetry through the NEOMFA. Bronte is the recipient of the 2015 & 2016 Academy of American Poets Prize and the 2017 Leonard Trawick Award. Her work can be found or is forthcoming in Jenny Magazine, Bone Bouquet, Pussy Magic, and Barnhouse.