the empty semi-trucks, stacked like dominoes,
are a body metallic between the grey warehouses

and the hot dog shop. the chili and malt shake
toss and turn in your gut. your bones—bolts

of sugary lightning. your old neighbor’s lawn is still
a garden of weeds. your childhood best friend

walks her dog and you don’t stop the rental car
to say hello. at the old house, the pine tree your sister

planted is now fifteen feet tall. it reaches, sharp and wild,
into the blue, and you could swear it leans towards you

as you drive by. like it knows from whose hands
it sprung, who planted it, who watered it drunk.


as you sleep, I am thinking
about the pressure of leaves.
their curl and snap and
how they hold on long. how
autumn is just another
word for forgetting. how
the cold blows through my shirt
while the air turns and hurts
our bones. downhill, the lake
begins to freeze, from the top
down—everything trapped

I remember
the season when I saw a fawn
curled at the side of the road
and she blinked at me, slowly.
I remember the first time I gave
blood I felt drained—dry
and dizzy.

I memorize your mouth
as you sleep—its breathy opening,
your tongue resting like a pearl.
I do not remember when I saw you
last—your back turning away
from my body—a shadow.

I imagine that we wept. it must
have been this way: the earth
curled around us and no matter
if we wanted to or not,
we remembered everything.


    self-portrait as shadow,
as wall, as fool trying on
    gold rings until they fit.
knuckle-born, night-ridden.
    I am the water, laughing.

    I reach to touch
my mouth and my hand
    returns with a peach pit.
every sad story starts
    out this way:

    I watch the moon buck
against the wind. my back
    curls into a snakebite. I try
to be important and necessary.

    my hair lifts and rises
from my body like a cloud
    or spiderweb. my mother sees
me floating and smacks me down
    with the wooden spoon.

the foxglove moths keep flying.
    it feels like pain, and
it’s just begun. I look in the mirror.
    pick at my teeth with needles.

    this is my self-portrait: the worn,
nearly transparent dress sock tucked
    into my best shoes.
self-portrait as my deepest bruise.


the dark tells me nothing
about observation. flyover lands
are shadows, the sky offers up
darkness and we snatch it up.
I lay chest up against the weeping lawn—
fire flickers up the back of my neck.
the heat has two faces.

the wind whips sand into my mouths—
the young palm trees submit to the push.
one hundred sailboats line the bay
like a string of pearls.
a storm pushes above the sun.

I talk to myself in my small apartment.
I narrate as I hard-boil eggs until the yolk
is just cooked. just cooked
or barely set, or still swimming
in salted water. on the shore’s stiff jaw.

I am a perforated scroll of steel;
hammered thin slice of beef.
I love the color orange until I can’t look
anymore. I collect the dark
until I am nothing but a ghost
on the night’s leather belt.

Shadow Song

when clouds of people gather
    at the lake’s dark mouth
to see how the moon paints it pink,
    I am alone, and the lighthouse

is a red metal sun. the moon
    is so close I can smell
its breath; it has teeth like silver
    fish—flickering, I am

turned loose by the flash
    photography, the crowd
flanking my solitary body.
    the moon dips itself into black ink—

speaks in exhalations, deep sighs.
    the water is a frigid rush of cymbals.
the mine to the west is quiet
    and the ore is black as wet night.

a man to my right says, the moon,
    it’s going so slow this year, like the moon
knows the speed of lips,
    the ache it reaches into.

a man to my left can’t stop
    clearing his throat, like the moon
clearing its throat and putting on its face
    of milk.

the moon is asking me to say something.
    the lake does not believe me
when I say I am leaving,
    chasing the songs of wolves.

I don’t believe me either.
    I am a collector of disbelief.
the moon reclaims its body, the lake
    pushes harder. its current

tongues my feet, pink
    under the blood moon, it numbs me
as if it misses me. as if it whispers
    in syllables of soft foam.


when I fall in love with a man
who is stupid and beautiful,

she shakes her head and her hair
whips against my neck—

bouquet of needles.
she pants into my ear

when I touch myself.
she is a quiet quilt—

memory of my body.
see through, malleable. her life

is so easy. she is so eager
to please. pressed up against

hot concrete, fragile glass. gravel
in her teeth. in her creases.

if asked, I would describe her
as thin and clear-skinned.

one dimensional apparition of bone.
dark cup of shimmering water.

endless depths. oil slick of sweat.
floor of the deepest canyon.

Sara Ryan is the author of the chapbooks Never Leave the Foot of an Animal Unskinned (Porkbelly Press) and Excellent Evidence of Human Activity (The Cupboard Pamphlet). In 2018, she won Grist’s Pro Forma Contest and Cutbank’s Big Sky, Small Prose Contest. Her work has been published in or is forthcoming from Brevity, Kenyon Review, Pleiades, DIAGRAM, Prairie Schooner, Thrush Poetry Journal, and others. She is currently pursuing her PhD at Texas Tech University.