Figure of Woman Coming Out of a Wall

by Emily Skaja

And so it is, having slain the dragon Winter, I come to walk
the herringbone floorboards & the wet stairs of a nursing home
out to the hall. Every day for a month I’ve said the words He left me.
At a wedding where I was happy for the couple, I declined to give the toast.
I took his namecard from the table & told myself it wasn’t stealing—
that this name I love belonged to me. At least.
Through the window of the nursing home, I can see the gutter dripping.
I stand taller than the wingspan of a heron to suggest I’m an arrow. Which I point.
My grandmother my namesake doesn’t always remember our name.
Can you say how old you are, I ask, & she says Yes. December.
What she remembers as clear as yesterday
is 1931, standing on the back porch of the house on Roscoe with her five siblings
watching their father burn down the garage for the insurance money.
I’m learning how to speak to her as if she could be any age.
She thinks it’s my aunt’s birthday, that we have eaten go?umpki & set out the cake knife
& we’re waiting for my grandpa, who died in 1987, to rummage through the cabinets
for the good floral plates. An old man in a wheelchair pulls himself by his feet
along the corridor of Polish last names & he says to me What’s your name, little girl, little girl
& I push through the door to stand out in the yard. Things are supposed to be fine now
because March has melted five blizzards down to floods, has shown the cold
no mercy. Coarse sleet is evicted; rainwater is raising blue tin in my veins
but I stand by a birch tree determined to speak—
I have practiced the clock tongue. Years are erasing. This
is how time passes: my grandmother falls, Winter. He doesn’t come back
for me, Winter. What was it the settlers expected
when they night-rowed their way up this flooded black river—
Was it, friends, the same bullshit? Again & again that law
of starting over: spring anyway. So spring. I know that story.
I’ve been holding my own arms up & I can’t remember why.
There’s a parquet star on the floor. The moon is losing blood.
When I cradle the skull of a vulture to my cheek I remember
how once I was near-bride at the not-altar how she sewed me
a blue marriage quilt & a dress how I practiced holding up my face to his
certain because I thought saying Yes first was the point.

Last updated March 11, 2023