Gail DiMaggio

Fallen Child: A Triptych

I know it’s the past because
my mother’s still alive. She says:
mother-daughter dresses,
says we’ll be beautiful
and alike. Walls rise
in columns and rows of fabric.
She tugs at a bolt
labeled “black watch,”
and the yards spill over her
in green rapids and upstart waves,
and a salesman with the mouth
of a grim old grouper
swims out of the darkness
to accuse her. But I
am already stripped
and draped in white voile.
Let’s wear the curtains
in the sunroom,
I say,
and she whispers:
But then we’ll know
we’re naked.

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Lily and I live in the tangle of wild
raspberry under the pines by the river bank.
Perched on rocks, we play morning birds—
raven I say, crow, she says—
then under the high sun
she dares me to take off my t-shirt,
and when I say: what if our mothers—
she laughs, so I tug it off
and my doubled-up braids swing
heavy and crooked onto my shoulders.
Lily breaks the rubber bands,
unweaves the plaits, tugs
at the strands till my eyes sting.
Sunset, we mark each other
in mud and berry juice. On my left side
she draws a cross, two drops
of blood. Along her collar bone,
I write it out in words: I love Lily.

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A girl-child lies naked
on the lawn where she fell
asleep. Wild hair haloes her face.
Grass flecks her back
like a pelt, molting. Beauty
in the curve of an ear, in
the shadow where her under-leg
vanishes into the secret.
Coming upon her un-posed,
irresistible, her mother takes a picture,
while the girl—shoulders hunched,
hands under her chest—goes on
dreaming: a coarse tongue
to groom her neck,
a fish
to nibble her fingers.
After Sally Mann

Spilled Sugar

She slept in a white room,
silk organza ruffling at the windows,
her satin spread
always slipping onto the floor,
like spilled sugar, like
the day she stood wiping it up,
wiping it up, and I asked,
Are you mad, Mamma,
and she looked across at me,
startled, as if someone unexpected
had wandered in, then smiled
and said, no, little cabbage,
not at you.

She tore up the witch grass,
but saved the lettuce sprouts, said
robins could find spring
but ravens have more truth
to tell, and if we’re not careful
how we point a tulip bulb,
it will wander in darkness
forever. Mornings, she divided
the snarling wilderness of my hair
into shining loops of braid.

I was afraid
of my father’s letters
boxed in onyx,
mother of pearl.
Afraid of the brass man
scowling on the door,
and that time she
floated in dream air
begging the wind to ripple her,
to make her less, make her
over, make her silk organza.

Creature

If I look behind me, I’ll see
the high window
where my Ivory Soap mother
scans and searches but
morning brave
I dare her to catch me
licking my arm for the millet taste,
crouching to poke
the truck-crushed frog
as she leathers on the tar.
All afternoon, Goldenrod’s a sad bird
with a yellow beak,
and bittersweet’s a nest
under the hum of the power lines.
But what if dark, and no
calling voice, no bath,
no sheets, no Now I lay me.

Once, I tried to keep
a furred, green caterpillar
in a Ball jar on my dresser.
It spun a cottony thumb
on the inside glass
and never got born again.

Ravenous

My brother a sleek
Buddha in her lap,

she taught me hunger,
then taught me: that’s enough,

and when I sinned by wanting more,
she said: how many wings


do you think a chicken has?
my pajama feet slip-slipping

in the night kitchen, I drained
a bottle of his formula—

gritty, lank-tasting.
I learned to strip

the gristle off the bone, chew
the twisted corner of the sheet,

dream the chunk of teeth
on the brittle rim of an ear.

One day she found me on my knees
under the honeysuckle trellis.

Yellow blossoms like dragon faces
wilted and broken around me.

The last of them
still in my mouth.

River, Cattail, Cold Window

Jimmy said a dog was lost near the river
but maybe it was a boy, and we’d be
heroes, but I didn’t want

to risk the swamp just because
Jimmy said so, and, besides,
How do you know


it’s a boy? Maybe, it’s a girl.
The weird marsh grass
like licked cat fur, the hissing rapids.

I wandered
telling myself stories. A girl
wearing a necklace of cattails

diving into the river, breathing
the river. And suddenly in brown water
a luminous shape—

lifting a hand, wavering past
with gelatinous grace. I whispered,
There she is.

In the fall the cattail I’d hidden
in my closet exploded
and my mother hit me

so I’d learn an outdoor thing
from an indoor thing.
But winter and my father

stamped his boots, my mother
peeled pie dough
finger by finger, and the window

sealed my lit face indoors.
I pressed my hand hard against the pane.
Let the cold burn.

Gail DiMaggio is the author of Woman Prime, selected by Jericho Brown for the 2018 Permafrost Poetry Prize and published by Alaska University Press. Her work has appeared recently in The Ekphrastic Review, The Tishman Review, Whiskey Island, and elsewhere. She resides in Concord, NH.
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About Posit Editor

Susan Lewis (susanlewis.net) is the editor of Posit (positjournal.com) and the author of ten books and chapbooks, including Zoom, winner of the 2017 Washington Prize, Heisenberg's Salon, This Visit, and State of the Union. Her poetry has appeared in such places as The Awl, Berkeley Poetry Review, Boston Review, The Brooklyn Rail, Cimarron, Gargoyle, The Journal, New American Writing, The New Orleans Review, Prelude, Raritan, Seneca Review, So to Speak, Verse, Verse Daily, and VOLT.