There is a certain decorum of patience expected in young women still

But it feels correct—to lean in
to the wound. I keep my head up
with my fist, and the new sutures
on my gum split open in an allegro
for my hearing only.

My mouth
is the instrument of abuse.

My ears are the fox-furrows
where most sounds are dead on arrival:
A ghost is an emotion
wracked into physical form, bound

to repeat itself until resolution.
So goes the same of the living songs:
shape notes written in silver
on vellum, on tree vellum, on trash vellum

for no death is unholy,
for my new cropping of white hairs
sing so lightly, but the sound carries above the rest—
those dark hairs the color of sin,
they thread themselves
into knots, repetition bound

until I rip them out.
Do not mistake me
for a minstrel of beauty,

though I will not ignore her entrance
into this flux. I can only sing

with the sound of the wound reopening,
with the sound of relief:
the hairs whitening.

Hope Prognosis

My mother bends over
with a knot in her throat
the forest echoes
with each crack of breath.

When she rises,
there's gold running down
the sides of her mouth,
the thick jowls

formed by years of grinding teeth into pearls.
I'm meant to carve heritage into my own face.
But this—the trickle of bright ash

dripping onto her collarbone,
down in rivulets
between breasts I ruined
with my hunger—this,

when she heaves, the splatter
catches starlight
and then I know,

what made her sick
all those years.
Those jowl-forming years,
when the whir of gold

in her chest
resurrected demons
from the store of girlhood,
the light with its shadow spawn.

Her thread-thin soul
begging to be clipped clean

of all that light and gold.

Kristi Carter has poems published or forthcoming in journals such as Spillway Magazine, So to Speak, CALYX Journal, and Hawai’i Review. She is originally from the foothills of North Carolina. She currently lives in Nebraska.