Lisa Fay Coutley


Dear Mom—


It’s been an hour since the storm sirens

began, yet I’ve felt freezing rain for days.


Outside my window, the plastic bag

snagged in the neighbor’s tree is filling


with wind then letting it go over & again.

I cannot stop breathing. It’s been so long


since we’ve spoken I’ve given up trying

to remember the last words you slurred.


Your voice a broken shell I cut my ear

against. You & I both know I hope for


no ocean. Now that you’re dead, do you

think love is wasted on the living? I have


pretended to look for you in every face

since I left the last room we breathed in


together. Remember when you dropped

your favorite dress at your ankles & stepped


into the street without me? Each night

some woman stumbled home & tried


to cook your recipes. Her hands just cut

you. I was seven. I promised then I’d never


let her hold me. My life began inside you. What

else is there to say? When I listened to a machine


beep your last heartbeat, I never rested my head

against her chest. Dear Mom—I’m still waiting


for that horse in my heart to stamp its hooves

again. I can drop a potted plant from my roof


a hundred times, though it takes only once

for it to learn to brace against the next impact.


I’m sorry the world made it so hard for you

to know the difference between a caress


& a closing fist. I’m sorry you left yourself

alone. Lonely. Briefly, today’s rain gathered


on the slats of the deck, & I admired the sky

twice. Still I wish I didn’t need to see the trees


dark as charred bones, poisoned veins. I’m sorry

I made you a disease I wasn’t willing to admit


I had for so many years. I close my eyes & try

to summon your face—a hole blown through


the center of every floor in this endless sky-

scraper inside me. Sometimes, in the mirror,


I stick out my tongue & widen my eyes & cry

like a baby who needs her mother to see her


need, to be her initial witness, to prove she

exists, so she can stop hauling her body


from city to city, bed to bed, searching

for herself in the faces of strangers. When


the temperature finally dropped, the rain

froze a mosaic, angry fragmented second


sky the snow is working hard to cover now.

The sun never showed today. Still I feel her


setting. As a girl, I’d sit by the shore & study

her early bruise & her evening blood spilling


under a door to another room of the universe,

as if I knew every gray day to come without her.


Lisa Fay Coutley is the author of tether (Black Lawrence Press, forthcoming 2020), Errata (Southern Illinois University, 2015), winner of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry Open Competition, and In the Carnival of Breathing (BLP, 2011), winner of the Black River Chapbook Competition. Recent poetry and prose appears in AGNI, Brevity, The Cincinnati Review, The Los Angeles Review, Narrative, and Passages North. Her poetry has been awarded a Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, an Academy of American Poets Levis Prize, chosen by Dana Levin, and has been anthologized in Best New Poets and Best of the Net, among others. She is an Assistant Professor of Poetry and Creative Nonfiction in the Writer’s Workshop at the University of Nebraska Omaha.

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