Have You Forgotten
Have you forgotten me?
you guess that I’m a star in space,
light years away from you,
but what if I’m right here,
sitting on your shoulder as you
stir your sugar-filled spoon
through the coffee?
What if I am the steam and
the piping heat of the water and
the floating dark granules themselves?
Have you forgotten me?
You don’t love me anymore.
Only I appear when you least suspect:
in the face of the Hindu girl
peering out on-screen,
through the darkened movie theatre,
straight through you,
waking up your shuttered heart,
rapping on the windowpanes of
You have forgotten me
only until I remind you.
Is this a haunting?
You will not allow yourself
to be haunted.
You aren’t fickle enough.
But watch as you forget,
if you keep choosing to forget.
Who knows when and where
I might show up—
in the aside of an email twenty-questions,
or in your mother’s determined datebook
with its graveyard of anniversaries,
in the black eyes of my sister’s newborn son,
or in the frozen branches
hovering over the road you traverse
only at Christmastime.
Because I live, only not as you think.
I live, and I am free,
more free than you imagine
your forgetfulness to enliven you.
Forget my body as I have forgotten it:
a shrugged off sweater, stained.
Girl from Illinois
-for Nam on her 90th birthday
Time for a walk, she sings,
and we are out the door.
Watch for cars. We keep
to the side of the road
where the dandelions poke
their furry heads. Careful,
don’t slip in the mud!
It’s April, that means rain.
Find the opening in the woods,
our secret door,
past fallen trees, bare naked,
like spines of giant fish
caught in the patches of sun.
We climb the moss-covered log
and mind our bottoms
because of the wet, and listen—
water chiming over rocks,
there’s the creek up ahead.
So cold it nips fingers, toes.
Don’t get your sneakers wet!
Choose your stones, throw them in,
and make a wish.
Moody sky over prairie,
a different April day.
Muddy, but still good for
walking dogs or pausing
at the pond to hear the frogs.
Pinch a fuzzy pussy willow,
Watch the daffodils grow.
All these things and more
you taught me, that I know.
Her brothers welcomed the creature
as if it were one of their own:
at full length, it draped along
the spine of the living room couch
like a flattened out rubber tire.
But while the boys wore the thing
across their shoulders and paraded with smirks,
the snake’s head peered back at her
from against the thin white ribbing
of the muscle shirt
which served as its royal carpet,
and she felt the eyes drink her in,
escape or revenge.
The boys neglected to name it,
and she imagined that the creature
mulled over this namelessness
as one brother first unwound the
lower half of the serpent
and then grasped its neck
and slung the body off his shoulders,
like girls on a playground
might hand off a jump rope.
The receiving brother took more care
in rewinding the serpent,
but continued without a gap in breath.
Only the girl noticed
the creature’s flicker of tongue—
escape or revenge.
Then one day,
her eldest brother suggested they bring
the snake to show his biology class, a quick A.
By “they,” he meant her, too.
He draped the creature across her upper back,
but the thing, seven feet too long,
ended up curled in her arms like a baby.
She held her breath
outside the chugging truck,
the warm muscle of the snake a strange shawl.
Its neck craned, tongue flickered,
and the two slit eyes considered her:
But in the car, on the way to school,
her brother rested the snake in a nest at her feet.
Up cranked the radio, the Animals,
and every once in awhile,
she glanced down to beware of
the bite which might strike.
But when they parked, the creature had snaked off,
its tail the flicker of a flag as it wriggled up,
underneath the dash.
Oh, shit, said her brother.
From the payphone, he dialed the mechanic
who said, Snake? and hung up.
Suicide by dashboard asphyxiation, she said,
and kicked a tire. She smiled.
Vanessa Blakeslee’s work has been published in The Paris Review, The Southern Review, and Green Mountains Review, among many others, and her short story “Shadow Boxes” won the inaugural Bosque Fiction Prize. She has been awarded grants and fellowships from Yaddo, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the Ragdale Foundation, and was a finalist for the 2011 Philip Roth Residency at Bucknell University. An alumnus of both the Bread Loaf and Sewanee Writers’ conferences, she also earned an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts.