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‘An Erotic Novel Was My Bible’

I consulted it for details
on how to handle pain,
learned to wear skirts, to shave
my skin as surgeons do
before pressing their scalpels in.
Thus I was a doctor
salving wounds, though I used
lotions, perfumes that bore the scent
of roses. Less and less
did I note the world for I heard
only one sound—that of men’s footsteps
approaching or going away;
this roused in me the memory
of animals my brother stoned
and dropped to the bottom
of the lake when angry. Wake up,
I screamed, yet did not wake.
Take me home, I cried, but there were
no chariots to carry me anywhere.
Tearing pages from the novel
was useless for they grew back—
fruits from a tree meant
to nourish. Thus I ate
and ate of them in spite of the ache
it produced. Thus I loosed
my body like a boat and hoped
for a captain to command me.
Thus I crashed often. Sometimes
I robbed my sister’s graves
for bangles or stole
their headstone bouquets
thinking of when I’d wed.
I worried the hems of my A-line skirts,
It hurts, I often said, for prophecies
foretold by the novel rarely
came to pass. Still, I taught myself
its dictums, bought lingerie I hoped
would be torn from me.
I thought myself a gift,
grew smaller and smaller until
I was a doll laying in my dappled
canopy bed, remembering,
now and then, to part
the heavy curtains of my hair,
purse my lips—these actions
the sole language of my species—
yet, who was listening? My room
was empty as was my head.
Red lipstick was smeared
across my teeth as if
I’d eaten something dead.

Dara Elerath lives Albuquerque, New Mexico. She has been published in The American Poetry Review and AGNI. She was the recipient of a poetry award from the Institute of American Indian Arts, where she earned her MFA, and was nominated twice for Best New Poets 2017.

“This poem was written while taking John Challis’ course, Frame, Shot, Scene, Sequence: Powering Poetry through Film. The prompt asked us to consider our ideas of love and how they are informed by our interactions with film and other media.”

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