Patricia Zylius


The simple, square geometry of it 
was clear to me, but I couldn’t follow him.
My hand on his shoulder, my other hand
in his, could not read the gentle clues 
that were supposed to guide me 
through turns and curves. I felt nothing 
pulsing under his cotton. Nothing crossed 
into my nerves. I stumbled 
over his foot, I tilted, I was stiff. 

I might as well have been our collie
on his hind legs, waiting to escape. 
Women love to dance with him, my mother said
He’s so easy to follow. But those women
never had to clench against his slaps and rages.
They could soften in his arms, no walls, 
no muzzled fear.


My arms float in slow curves,
I ease into another direction,
and my hand passes before my face,
and for a moment, I see my father’s hand —
its color, its shape — as though resurrected 
and living at the end of my arm. 
His hands were pale and freckled. 
A foam of blond hair iridesced
in certain lights and as he aged 
the hair bleached not so much white 
as a transparent no-color.
Palms almost square, clean nails
clipped straight, knobby knuckles.
Uncalloused desk hands that turned pages, 
cradled pens, drew round-cornered,
squarish letters, no slant, lovely and clear. 
You’d have thought them gentle, those hands. 
How they’d place the needle carefully 
in the record grooves as he said 
listen to this before the organ 
poured its thunder and blaze
into the room. But I never knew
when one of them would leave his side
and strike my face, as though it had
its own life — the loud crack and sting
of that fast slap throwing my head
to the side — its comrade hand curled
and clenched, the rock held back.
I had no moves then. Now, 
I practice — single whip.
Fist under elbow. Snake creeps down.
Cloud hands.

PATRICIA ZYLIUS is the author of the chapbook Once a Vibrant Field. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in California Quarterly, SWWIM, Plant-Human Quarterly, Catamaran Literary Reader, Passager, Sequestrum, Book of Matches, Juniper, Ellipsis, Natural Bridge, and other journals, and on the Women’s Voices for Change website. Her poems are also included in Welcome to the Resistance: Poetry as Protest, In Plein Air, Women Artists Datebook, and The Yes Book. 

Read more by Patricia Zylius:

Three poems in Sequestrium
Two poems in Book of Matches