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
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.