Your limbs expanded working in the daycare
With your professors’ kids
In the open floorplan of a substance-free dorm.
Children here grew smaller than you ever were,
Heads turned pine cones,
One by one they came to hold your hand
When you on your stool
Crouched watching words appear on cards,
They neither knew nor inhabited
In the bodies they’d learned to stretch out, slip on.
This would come.
For now, you and your mornings followed all-nighters
In essays rhapsodizing a language upturned.
In sweaters grasped
From waists of strangers
Who traced you catching a last bus back.
In cheap boxed wine that left your mouth
A wad of moths, chewed-up against turf.
Some days you continued to wake
Just so you could tower amongst them all.
Here in the playground,
In the druid shadow
Spinning a circle of curated pines.
Here you lifted them one by one
As candles, near-weightless,
Counted them up to the hummingbird feeder,
Let them watch a heartbeat fly.
Falling like Alice
Into a deep-blue couch
I could not emerge from,
I was taken by the thought
That the universe once fit in pieces in my palm.
For years I’d sewn facades
Over splinters in my character,
Patched the promises made to my violin tutor,
Here, I was craftless,
Alone in a dark my mother had forbid me
To brush up against.
In a place where even stars
Were pasted neon to the sky
By astronomy majors, ambitious,
Feigning senses of urgency.
Where an artificial field
Enticed me those nights
When the wind blew the rough from my knees.
Left me to pray for a tiny uproar,
To clutch at the long-legged stadium lights,
To stride my room bare-bulbed,
Haloed at 3am by my mini fridge.
My drawer full of pins,
My pile of books on constructing a poem,
A prayer to Dickinson
Under my nails,
In the roots of my perfect teeth.
The Only Café Around For Miles
In the empty restaurant forty minutes from campus,
You let the man
Give you instructions as to how things work:
How to order here (where there is no menu),
As he, unrolling flat as maps his mind,
Lists out many multiverses
Of ingredients he will combine
(Just for you, who has never once chosen).
How he, alone in the back with an apron,
Leaves a police scanner running all day
In this place that doubles as home
(You watch the walls that crawl with taxidermy, bric-a-brac,
Kewpie dolls, long-extinct license plates),
Keeping tabs on his ex’s ongoings.
How he, many miles along from the highway,
Can tell you down to the single-digits
The number of deer occupying these roads.
How, like his dad, he haunts them, hunts
Their long-evolved footfall designed in leaves
Crackling his scanner through the static.
How, like so many before and to come,
He will wish you off
Safe home to the dorms,
Will squint his eyes and pray at you, not to hit a deer
Out there in the dense shape
Your drive leaves behind.
Just after final exams, sophomore year,
I slipped into the glen,
And lost myself in tufts of ferns
Like hair of all the most beautiful humans.
Stepped down this small cliff
I pretended was all my own,
Discovering what the more studious could not.
Pressing upon a small skull,
Some badger or weasel,
Left to grin by a shallow riverbank,
My mind swam with inconstant thought,
Theories consumed and spit forth on flash cards.
The stages of child development
Laid out in order,
From metamorphosis tadpole to toad.
I considered myself a stunted child-
Unable to speak, to express my wants
Except through the eyes and thoughts
Of others I imagined
Examining my every move,
Seeking out instances of aberration.
I recalled the counselor, with his kind crooked face
I disappointed once,
Showing up once to a session
And divulging not much.
In his counseling course I flourished invisible,
Alive to the workings of inner minds
With others and the world.
Embraced Maslow’s pyramid, a hierarchy of need,
Unsure where I fit into self-actualization.
Carl Rogers, I made into a grandfather figure,
Imagined my own way
Of interpreting empathy.
Drank alone, dedicating my essays
To a grandpa
Who drank unencumbered by darkness.
Shannon Cuthbert is a Hamilton College graduate and writer living in Brooklyn. Her poems have been nominated for three Pushcarts, and have appeared in journals including Chronogram, Hamilton Stone Review, and Glass: A Journal of Poetry. Her work is forthcoming in Schuylkill Valley Journal, The Metaworker, and Lowestoft Chronicle, among others.