On Keeping a Pet

by Meghann Plunkett

& also how a box of porcelain dolls looks
        almost like one body. Nine dresses
                flowering into one another, eighteen
arms stretched up & each claret-red mouth

        painted perfectly shut. My mother sells them
to the consignment shop for ten cents
        & a tiny dusk darkens in her girlhood. Not weeks before,
                for the first time, she woke to a startling of blood

between her legs over teeth-white sheets—I’m dying, I’m dying
        & her ditch-silent mother filling the bathtub
with bleach. Even the street cats in heat were bleating too—
        I’m dying, I’m dying—& she learned a lot

                that summer: which ways not to walk
alone at night, how to hush-up & shut
        her goddamn knees. She started to watch
                more carefully how her own mother drew

two perfect lines up the back of her legs,
        saw eyeliner disappear like a dirt road
                slurring behind a hill. When they took her

to the barber shop, they held her shoulder & her ponytail–
        orange as a gourde—was severed at the root. She watched
                it fall from her like a rag-doll, pillowing
onto the floor. At home, she tucked the soft thing
        into her nightstand drawer—we are all cursed

        with something to care for—she thought
                of the tailor measuring the length
of her thigh, his hot hand reaching up into her

        skirt. How she told no one
                of those nights she snuck
outside with a saucer of milk, stood at the mouth
        of the lightless alley—called & called & called.

MEGHANN PLUNKETT is a poet, coder and lover of dogs. She is the winner of the 2016 Academy of American Poets Prize. Meghann is currently an MFA candidate at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. Her poems can be found or are forthcoming in The Paris-American, Muzzle Magazine, Winter Tangerine, decamP Magazine, storySouth and the anthology Chorus(Simon & Schuster, 2012). Her essays and animated poems can be found in Luna Luna Magazine. She is the writer in residence at Omega Institution and the director of The Black Dog Tall Ship Writing Retreat on Martha’s Vineyard, MA.