By Abby Wheeler
We build a fire outside and tell ourselves we commune with nature.
When our toes get cold, we spread the coals and go in.
Set work alarms and switch off bloodless lights
on this longest night. I used to dress for the weather
and always knew the phase of the moon.
I used to say a prayer before sleep. But when I close my eyes now
my mind is a midnight lake and words break on its surface.
I used to imagine, driving the highway, this valley before:
when harvest moons and long shadows kept time.
When the sky was a map and the ground held us up.
When we did not close our eyes because what we saw was a prayer
and our mouths made the shape of our songs.
My people do not use the word ancestors.
My family does not speak of our people.
My mouth, searching for its shape.
Do you remember that woman, in the story?
Felt all the world’s pain for so long
that she filled her pockets with rocks
and walked into the river? Do you remember
in seventh grade, when we went to Washington,
and that chaperone cried when the guard changed
at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier? Someone asked
what was wrong and she said, All those mothers.
Then that summer, dinner on your deck, your mom
slapped a mosquito and the blood smeared on her arm.
Your little brother cried and cried, even
when they brought out the ice cream.
Remember how I always wanted to go fishing
but never to fish? How I hated throwing them back
with that hole in their mouth? I’d imagine
casting the lure, watching it break the perfect surface
and waiting for it to sink, then feeling a tug,
reeling it in and finding at the end of the line
a silver shimmering fish with purple
eyes that looked right at me. And when
I peered in its mouth, there wasn’t a hook,
just a glossy golden stone.
Abby Wheeler lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she is an active community and staff member at Women Writing for (a) ChangeⓇ. She has been a finalist for the Great Midwest Writing Contest, and has work published or forthcoming in the Midwest Review, the Pittsburgh Poetry Journal and the Salmon Creek Journal. Her chapbook, In the Roots, arrives Fall 2021 from Finishing Line Press.