Two days before the wedding
The fields whiten with circus tents
Some of us are sent to the barn
To tear apart chickens
Chatting and stacking
Their livers and hearts
Others collect stray children
And run them in circles
Till they’re exhausted
When the bride paces
We nestle her into corners
Work ointment into her hands
One day before the wedding
She tracks us to the river
Since it is May
The water’s silvered with Gaspereau
And she watches as we sieve them up
To spasm on the dock
Gulping splintered air
Rubbing off their spangled skins
You saw her once, at Esquimault Harbor,
when you were a three-year-old boy called Oscar.
While you staggered over the sand,
slippery with SPF 50,
your parents humped on the beach towel,
to Lou Reed singing “Sweet Jane.”
Lipless, lidless, five slits in her throat,
her rosy larynx furled in and out.
You laughed at her boa: seaweed, rusted forks.
She tore up a starfish, swallowed its points.
You offered, as truce, some Sun Maid raisins.
She spread out, to amuse you, all forty fingers.
Finding you gone, your father sprinted over the sand
(long legged, in one Birkenstock)
while your mother stayed right there!, sat on her heels,
gasping into a brown paper bag.
Later, your parents noticed the salt taste of your skin,
called you their little potato chip.
Your mother combed sand from your hair,
your father found beach grass in your bed.
Now, they sleep to the sound of rogue waves crashing. Dreaming,
they pick their way through dying jellyfish
to find you waiting (not for them) behind a rock,
content amid the iridescent quivering.
MARY ELLEN SPOOK
In 1922, a farming couple living outside of Antigonish, Nova Scotia adopted a young woman named Mary Ellen. Soon afterwards, strange things began to happen.
As a teenager, there are several ways to get your parents’ attention. Only one of these ways is to set things on fire with your mind. But Mary Ellen was unaware of the alternatives. Had it not been 1922, had she been born yesterday, she could’ve banged out a career, like Sylvia Browne. Book jackets bright as tin foil, rosy quartz, incantatory moaning set to djembes. Had it not been Nova Scotia, she could’ve joined a circus, called herself Isis, read hibiscus, cut a fringe, fucked a few dogs when the seekers slowed their seeking. But what she lacked was access. No books, no newspaper even — the closest thing to freakish the Francophone farmhand with his black cigarettes and black coffee. She didn’t mean to braid the horse’s manes and tails hundreds of times with so much élan — French, four-stranded — but up was the only unoccupied direction, so how else to get there? And always these questions: Who set those fires? Who broke those mirrors? Is that your blood? One morning, the china cabinet doors flew open of their own accord, and teacups floated out in a straight line, doing a little turn at the end of their journey, like runway models. This time, Mary Ellen hadn’t even been there throwing her big wet mind around. Instead, she’d been standing at the edge of the property, where the plough always turned back. Her neck was bent like a medieval mandolin. When the priests and parents approached — already bloody, from pushing through blackberry thorns — their faces were no longer the human faces she had known. So she lay down before them carefully, as if upon dozens of glass balls, and when someone made the first cut, she said only Mother, I am afraid.*
Author’s note: *These are supposedly the last words of Anneliese Michel, a German woman who was believed to be possessed by demons. She died in 1976 after undergoing sixty seven “exorcism sessions.”
SARA PETERS was born in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, and was a 2010‐2012 Stegner fellow at Stanford. Her first book, 1996, will be published in April by Anansi.