Paige Ackerson-Kiely




I know what you’re thinking right now. It’s true she took the first

job after high school. What can you do. Sometimes they come from a

black scribble, words like couch, too many long-nippled hounds

rushing the driveway. I know what it looks like to you. This is her

peak. The bonfire by the lake. It’s fall, everyone wears the same navy

blue hoodie. Yes, it’s exactly how you are picturing it. I want to go on,

but what’s the point: She arrived with a man, slightly older. They

screeched into the pull-off, dust like a smoke machine heralding their

duet. He heaved the cooler from the truck bed. She touched her face

nervously, linked her arm through his. I watched them walk the

narrow path to the pit. Occasionally this time of night you hear loons

calling across the water, the sound is foggy, sad, the way it fades

toward the end, like a dinghy sighing before it turns to face a storm.

But not yet. The wind picked up and he pulled her into him, unzipped

his sweatshirt and wrapped it around her, too. There was nothing we

could do. Sometimes they come from thirst, the way lips meet and

separate, a last sip of flat soda shook onto the asphalt, bottle turned in

for a nickel then crushed. You don’t need me to tell you what happens

next: 25 of them drinking and layering on twigs and brush. The night

had become black like the space where a tooth used to be. Like the

absence of tools. Chiseling the hard ground with your bare hands or

maybe just kicking out a hole. You know what I mean. It’s hard to

think about a life before. He had an idea. Sometimes they come from

a need to keep warm, or watch, in the face of problem. Sometimes the

problem is fixed, the way your organs stay inside your body even

when you’ve lost everything else. It seemed like the fire had always

been roaring. He grabbed a beer from the cooler, it felt like a flagpole

in his hand, like it had rained and it was March, no lamb in sight.

When was the last time he shimmied to the top of anything—couldn’t

remember— chucked the can whole into the blaze. You know the rest.

Tell me what you heard. Did you hear the explosion. It started as a

hiss, then burst with such force—sometimes they come from anger,

sometimes ignorance, the end result is the same. The can unfurled

under the pressure, the sharp blade of it into her eye, blood from her

socket petaled her cheek. We could feel her breathing, beating, see

her red eye, black hair plastered to her neck, and the pike dive, face

first to the ground. The loons suddenly screaming: where did you go? Tell

me where I am! The loons screaming and screaming, trying to locate a

familiar, trying so goddamn hard to know something about love and a

place before you go extinct. 

Adopting a New Currency


Our new currency made a celebratory entrance. She came in droves,

heaps of riven brocade, cosseted steam trunks without the vapor

rising up. We had misgivings, made our eyes into cattle lowering

under a rainstorm while the grass smelled afraid, clumped and

collected in our soles, could not be shook free. She ate through our

rations; we touched the parts of her that swung. She ate through our

rations; we kept all of our medicine in a small, white lockbox. I had

the only copy of the key, practiced turning it in my closed fist, heard

people coughing and tightened up my fist would not open. The first

time in my life I held something of value was a robin chick pushed

early to flight and pummeled the ground, if you can say it that way.

The sound of a wallet thrown to linoleum after an argument. Nursing

is what one comes to after birth or war, but I was a boy at the time,

fashioned paper cranes out of the worthless bills she replaced, lined

them up in shoebox as if being around some familiar form could

soothe a beast back to health. It didn’t work the way I saw it. You

can spend your whole life saving the one true feeling you ever had—

you can protect it, pretend to see it everywhere. She was darker than

her forbearer, smaller too, and while we felt decent enough

protecting her, I still tried my best to save the pills for the children

that they might fly so far away.


PAIGE ACKERSON-KIELY is the author of  My Love is a Dead Arctic Explorer, In No One’s Land and other works of poetry and prose. She lives in rural Vermont and works at a homeless shelter.