Warden is married to his keys –
keeps them on a cord
snaps them back to hip.
Chink, step, chink, step–making rounds.
Twenty years, I worked these walls.
Last month, finished a forest,
a world blooms in my cell.
Swirling clouds cover my sky.
Branches beckon above my bunk.
Eyes of squirrels and other critters
peek from the umber of brush.
Chink, step, chink, step.
Today I rise. Warden pulls his keys
unlocks my cage.
Back to hip.
Sending me home—
Sending me where I began.
Forest insists I visit.
In twenty years,
pine trees stretch,
Tracing paths on Ponderosa’s skin,
I place my cheek against her sturdiness,
and beg for answers to time’s sweet passage.
Considering all this forest holds,
I course through memory.
A snort disrupts my reverie.
I feel eyes upon my flesh.
Never losing contact with Ponderosa’s trunk,
Rising up this she bear towers–her broad head
bruises the underside of branches
until she knocks something loose.
Maybe that’s all she wanted.
On all fours she turns,
and lumbers deep into dense dark woods.
My breath whooshes out
as I settle in a crumpled heap at the base of the tree.
The sun’s light draws my eyes to the ground.
There–what the she bear knocked down.
A skeleton key.
The skeleton key.
My laughter resonates through every tree’s being.
Twenty years ago, I climbed this tree.
Twenty years ago, I hid this key.
The key to a secret chest I’d stolen
from the cup on my brother’s desk.
The cup with
(this means you Bitch)
scrawled on its side.
When confronted, I told him
I threw it in the lake.
At that, one hand grabbed the back of my neck,
the other engulfed my wrist.
He half-pushed, half-pulled me to the lake—
a back and forth waltz to the shore’s rocky edge.
“Get it!” he said.
“Make me!” I dared.
He danced me through the icy wet
until water lapped at my waist.
“Where is it!” he screamed.
“Where is it!”
He grasped my hair
in both his hands and
shoved me under.
I struggled to hold onto
the limited air in my lungs,
letting it out in stops and starts.
I tried twisting, turning, kicking.
He jerked my head back,
and got in my face.
“Where is it, you little bitch?”
Nothing but heaving gasps with time for one deep breath.
Under again—I forced myself to open my eyes.
Mossy stones summoned through the muck.
My hands felt for stones with substance.
My hands felt for stones with sharp edges.
I let myself go limp.
He yanked me up.
I swung behind me.
A crack of stone on skull
punctuated the morning air.
He let loose, stunned,
blood dripping from his temple
and slid beneath the surface of the lake.
I held him there, under the water
until his bubbling ceased, thinking
he’d become part of the lake, and
nourish its fish with his blood.
The first draft of Fish Food was constructed from an intense prompt during a writer’s workshop I attended two years ago. The prompt was delivered an image at a time as we were writing, and the story unfolded from each image. The prompt was designed to explore Jungian archetypes. The images included key, forest, cup, bear, and body of water. The person who delivered the prompt had us close our eyes, and paint each new image into our piece mentally before writing. I revised this piece last summer, but still felt it was unfinished. I cut about 20% tightening it up today. This may be the final draft…but who knows? It just might beckon again some day.