MY MOTHER READS ME LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD AS A YOUNG GIRL
After the cat is sated and garaged, after the dishes drip on a rack,
after the locks snap, after a swept floor, after ironed shirts and ties,
after dinner separates into Tupperwared tiers, after the
big star dies again in the sky, after Unsolved Mysteries and
my sisters retreating through separate doors. Before I learned to
read, my mother sang nightly from books—the cadence of rising
tones in her tongue charged careless English with music off
the page. I’d listen to her work her way through its drama: the
little girl’s errors hitched to curiosity, her wandering hands, the
way the wolf and the girl had much more in common than not—
both hungry beasts seeking nutrition and love and beauty. Most of
my childhood was a wander, but I don’t know when she turned wolf, what
finally set her off though the woods alone. Yet even as the Huntsman
draws closer for both of us, I can still see Red’s tender slip. I’ve seen
my mother’s walking route and the way she carried my own baby like
a precious parcel from another life. Affection curves even into
her cruelest forms: my head bashed into the car dashboard, the stolen wallets
behind the ice rink’s bleachers, even the shadow beneath her eyes
when she talks about money or big tits or who today is not being grateful.
What are we, but small creatures avoiding new versions of violence?
After the wolf is dead, after the girl and the grandmother are dead, after the wine
is drank, and the basket delivered. After the woods are gone, after the story
is lost or repurposed, after the conditions of departure and the language
are both forgotten. And after my mother is gone, after my sisters are
gone, after I am good and gone, too, may there be a minor figure blooming
at the edge of this dense treatment. May she also skip sounding out words
like circumvent, wander, curtains. Have her eat a belly-full of principles and
stone. Have her gulp the whole house down, while it’s still kicking.
JESSICA Q. STARK is a poet and educator living in Jacksonville, Florida. Her first full-length poetry collection, Savage Pageant, was published by Birds, LLC in March 2020 and was named one of the “Best Poetry Books of 2020” in the Boston Globe and in Hyperallergic. She is the author of three poetry chapbooks, including INNANET (The Offending Adam, 2021). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Pleiades, Poetry Daily, Carolina Quarterly, wildness, Hobart Pulp, Tupelo Quarterly, Glass Poetry Journal, and others. She serves as a Poetry Editor for AGNI and the Comics Editor for Honey Literary. She teaches writing at the University of North Florida.