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My daughter calls to tell me my aunt has died, and I'm not invited to the funeral

by Elya Braden

Belong is a straitjacket

and I'm no Houdini, only a cup

of discarded teeth 

and double-jointed nails.

When I was nine, I believed 

a bed made by 6 am

could untangle me. 

For a dime a piece, 

I ironed my father's handkerchiefs, 

but doors unlocked behind me 

and sneakers refused 

to stay tied until

I was all windows. 


I counted the mermaids 

on the bathroom wall

like rosary beads. I counted

on the dawn to solve for y.

I counted the stuffed animals

I tucked as talismans around 

my sleeping sister. 

I counted backwards

from 100. I colored

between the lines.


When I say mother, soap

bubbles from my mouth.

I become bathtub and she 

a pirate, oaring her skiff 

with a wooden spoon,

rough from its labors. 

Silence a rope dangling

from night's ceiling,

crickets my last defense

against the knot.


Or, my mother is a faultline

and I am a broken 

ATM on the wrong side

of Tuesday. Or, she is

a covered wagon, carrying

my sister and her sister

across the prairie,

and I am a blade of grass

bent under her wheel,

bones by the side

of the road.


I could play this game

all day, but I'll still be

flotsam in the Rio Grande

while she is America

flushing her storm drains.

After 10 years, I've learned

to speak in scissors, to say

family and mean strangers.


Once I was a poem. Now, 

I'm a shovelful of dirt 

waiting for the grave.

About the Author

Elya Braden took a long detour from her creative endeavors to pursue an eighteen-year career as a corporate lawyer and entrepreneur. She is now a writer and mixed-media artist living in Los Angeles and is assistant editor of Gyroscope Review. Her work has been published in Calyx, Causeway Lit, Linden Avenue Literary Journal, Rattle Poets Respond, Willow Review and elsewhere and has been nominated for Best of the Net. She is the author of Open The Fist, recently released by Finishing Line Press. You can find her online at

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