“Letter to Myself, 15”, “Story” by Pauletta Hansel”

“Letter to Myself, 15”

I want to tell you how, in time, everything shows on the skin. Today, turning my wrist to bite an apple, I saw a new ridge at the base of my palm. A gentle rise of loosened flesh, not like the sharp slashed mountains where you, in my mind, your only home, remain. Think instead of farmland, river basin, sloped pastures, plowed fields. Oh you smooth girl. Broken only by the sharp protrusion of bone you were so proud of—ankle, knee, hip, steep pitch of pelvic cage above the valley. The ridge of ribs. You hungered away the softness. Your power lay not in the just-ripe plums of breast but in the knob between them. What have I done with you? What did you do to me? There is a small scar, a distant lightning bolt, on my right wrist slashed all those years ago by the impatience of the left thumb’s jagged nail. Every time I see its raised white welt I think of the one who hurt me open then, his love—we’ll call it that—a scalpel to the other scars you once lifted your body to receive, now invisible beneath the bone. Did you believe if you could hide what did not heal, the hurt would cease to matter? But we are made of matter, girl. And now this body you have left me to begins to show your leaving. Think deer track through the fallow winter field where every step in thawing ground is visible. And I am trying to love this land, mine now to tend.


My mother said 
she never asked again
who her oldest brother’s 
father was. 
Granny didn’t want 
to talk about it.
That’s all we needed 
to know.
So I made stories 
in my head
of someone kinder 
than my grandpa,
his lips not folded thin  
inside a nighttime scruff 
of peppered gray.
I wanted that comfort for her,
if not in life, in memory
of a silken tangle of flesh 
hidden between 
tall rows of corn
back in Virginia 
where her people stayed.
She never went back home, 
not even after Grandpa died, 
and she cut off 
her waist-length hair,
let her youngest daughter, Helen, 
give her a home perm. 
Years later, 
almost everybody dead, 
Aunt Helen told me. 
That old story.
A widowed father 
grizzling himself 
into his daughter’s bed.
Her name was Etta.
Before I knew her, ten children 
had torn through that secret place 
her father had claimed. 

Pauletta Hansel’s seven poetry collections include Coal Town Photograph and Palindrome, winner of the 2017 Weatherford Award; her writing has been featured in Oxford American, Rattle, Appalachian Journal, The Cincinnati Review, American Life in Poetry, Verse Daily and Poetry Daily, among others. Pauletta was Cincinnati’s first Poet Laureate (2016-2018) and is managing editor of Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel. https://paulettahansel.wordpress.com