Like fairy tales, my mother’s stories were meant
to order the world: Once, there was a fourteen-
year-old girl, a windshield, a barbed wire fence.
Once, there was a man your father knew,
a gravel road, a cargo rack, a passenger
pinned like a frog.
I used to imagine myself
victim of more benign emergencies:
a fainting spell at school; a car accident
with no injuries except one long, dramatic cut
that wouldn’t scar; my head hitting the gym floor
so hard no one would let me move. I wanted
to be rescued from what wasn’t my fault,
the stretcher and straps a glass coffin to bear away
my blameless body. Instead, I was bitten
by a poisonous spider. I broke my ankle,
caught bronchitis, was dehydrated by the flu.
I lived by the rules my mother made:
Wear your seatbelt. Stay away from guns.
Don’t drink or take rides from people who do.
Lie to me and you’ll be sorry.
Always, I heard
warnings she wouldn’t say: If you die in pieces
on a dirt road it takes two hours to find; if you slit
your lover’s throat and try to slit your own,
trailing blood all over the house; if you fall down
in a cornfield and no one knows till you start
to rot—don’t make me be who finds you.
I never said how much I needed to be found,
to feel her gloved hands holding mine and know
she’d save me even from the ending I deserved.