The Woman in the Field
A circle of children with hair the color of withered cornstalk
hold out batteries and say, put your tongue on them. Try it, try
while a woman looks on with milky eyes,
her hair husks in boiling water.
I can't tell why I think the dried corncobs
in the gravel and the mattress under the tree
were not put here by children who bite so fast
they leave rows of kernels.
What does this mattress make me imagine?
What stalks this strange field? Who is eating my head?
Years ago, I would have imagined children jumping
off the branches, landing hard on the mattress,
shouting out when the odd spring caught a rib, an elbow.
There would be a young mother with a plate of corn,
red-faced from the heat and laughing.
Then, bird songs were not ominous.
Danger did not orbit like a gang of gnats.
I gutted you ten years ago, cut your limbs with a kitchen knife
and threw you in a dumpster across the street.
I watched the three-legged cat grieve you, head in his paws.
Amber, you dull-eyed monster, how did you find me?
You did not scream when I sliced the seam of your spine.
You stared. You smiled your dry-lip smile.
It was not me who colored you purple.
I did not keep you under the stairs.
But we never put rollers in your hair.
You were not even good enough for Brown Bear,
who the Paper Dolls would not give the time of day.
We could have let you marry him.
You are an ugly girl in a paisley dress got from a bin at the Salvation Army.
Your eyes roll white in their sockets, even though you're cheap
and your eyes don’t move when you're made to dance,
when a little sister is playing baby and rocking you in her arms.
Remember that night you were on top of the fridge, legs swinging?
I just came here for a Fudgsicle, I thought.
I threw you. Your body was fleshy,
your back so fat it was a second ass.
Where did you find your cheeks after I carved them from your face?
You are dead, Amber. I won't believe in you.
Just you try and climb on top of my fridge tonight.
I will soak you in lighter fluid, burn you in a skillet
then wash it, dry it before it rusts.
Ladan Osman has received fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center, Cave Canem, and the Michener Center for Writers. Her work has appeared in Narrative Magazine, Prairie Schooner, RHINO, and Vinyl Poetry. Her chapbook Ordinary Heaven appears in Seven New Generation African Poets, Slapering Hol Press, 2014. Winner of the Sillerman First Book Prize, The Kitchen-Dweller’s Testimony will be published by University of Nebraska Press and Amalion Press in 2015. She teaches in Chicago.