Everything was better
when I was quiet.
Quietly, not asking
I couldn’t bury my head; they wouldn't
have my ears full of sand.
I looked away, hummed
something, asked myself instead—
if no one else
wanted to fill the position.
I was good at nodding yes.
Yes, I knew they weren't the same.
It was my job to understand them,
frantic wild cards, smiling Barbies,
thinking they were something special.
I knew better.
They took and said, 'Taker!'
why. It’s why I was quiet. Why
I always tried to save something
helpless, a stray cat. It's why
I hated ruined things, the word ungrateful,
held onto them, made wishes.
Everything was better when
my skin fell from my face,
and they screamed.
The Suicide Forest
My sister went into the forest,
Hannah walked among notorious,
that emerged from the iron-rich soil like snakes.
People went to hang off them.
She wanted to be a tree
like the others,
most of them hanging bones now.
Most of them
loved trees as children, climbed them,
broke an arm
or sliced into the meat of their legs.
They flailed about,
frantic all those years, thinking of the forest
as they aged.
It was quiet.
The density of the trees made it almost soundproof.
No birds sang there.
No deer, no rabbits, no squirrels, everything devoid
of life but the trees.
Hannah went into the forest with nothing
and months after,
while our parents built a case to prove it was murder,
I stood at the entrance
of the Aokigahara Forest reading:
Life is a precious gift. Quietly think once more
about your parents,
siblings, or children. Please don’t suffer alone
and reach out first.
It was all in Japanese.
At first I skirted the outer area, stuck a few toes in
and looked back.
I’d go ten feet and sit in the acidic soil
and try to feel something.
I couldn’t make an echo when I said, hello.
It felt most unnatural;
it wasn’t, because it was of nature, heavy and dense. It was
a volcanic headache
creeping, a headband after it’s been on too long,
The Sea of Trees vibrated.
It ate and ate when it wasn’t hungry.
It had pica
like people with iron deficiencies
that crave clay and ice,
things devoid of nutrients, except it didn’t crave those things;
the forest craved people.
The anemic crawled around. They tried to cry
because they were too depressed and didn’t know why.
phone signals were lost to the soil, the mother.
above it all, dancing like a child, singing, everything silent
to everyone but her.
Says I remind her of an
the one with glasses
and malignant cancer.
She says, “Cancer kills you.”
I ask, “Are you sad?”
Emma sways and dances
at the question
when all she wants is to cry.
I go as depression.
Spit of tobacco.
Sulk over rickrack.
Never time for them.
My mask is a hand-me-down.
I don’t have to smile.
Wearing black plastic
is a skip. No one expects
anything of its parted lisp,
its socially acceptable
lift up their disguises
and yellowing teeth
bite into petit fours
and hors d’oeuvres
as my own mask morphs,
eats away at my beauty.
I run to remove a leech
at arms length in the backroom
on a backdrop of Halloween,
replace it with a lorgnette,
inspect and hand it
over to a man,
poised as death.
Balance there like a ghost.
I know he is dying. My
three year old son
watches Orange, his eel,
turn itself into knots and asks me
the same questions everyday:
“How will he eat?”
“I don’t think he’s hungry anymore.”
I reach for the right words;
when bugs die
it’s less of an interconnected process
like losing a fingernail.
“Oh.” He places a large pinch of food
through the hole. “Why is he doing that?”
“I think he’s old and sick.”
I keep it simple.
“Like your grandma?”
“Yeah. She was old and sick.” I hope
it stays simple for a long time.
Orange was limp like a noodle,
would become a violent tremor.
A year ago, he lost his left eye,
this week he lost the other;
it seems they faded away to
someplace inside his brain.
He could be a spinning ribbon
because he is adjusting to no sight,
or he’s old
and dying one eyeball at a time.
I hope he is blind, learning braille
by the water,
that in the morning
my son will have another chance
to watch the dancing eel;
I know he is sick and dying.
When he goes we will buy goldfish
for five cents each, pretend
he was just a fish.
The dogs are alive; our cat is young.
I hope it stays simple for a long time.
Kaci Skiles Laws is a
closet cat-lady and creative writer who reads and writes voraciously in the
quiet moments between motherhood and managing Crohn's Disease. She grew up on a
small farm in a Texas town alongside many furry friends, two sisters, and a
brother. She has known tragic loss too well, and her writing, which is often
dark and honest, is a reflection of the shadows lurking in her psyche. Her work
can be viewed at: https://kaciskileslawswrit