I sucked her dense, salty, left pinkie
until the day I bit it clean off
without knowing why, wedged it
like a rubber match deep in my pocket
as Nancy stared straight ahead with her blue
glass eyes, her toothbrush-bristle eyelashes,
her rubber body heavy as a kickball.
I twisted the tight joints of her hips to make her sit,
make her lie down, make her sit again
twisted the tight joints of her shoulders
to raise her arms above her head, to press
her arms to her sides, so I could wrap her, tight.
Frequently, I gave Nancy a bath
out in the yard, in a plastic dishpan,
left her lying on the worn porch steps
for three nights, while her water-filled body
ran dry, water pouring
not just from the pee-hole placed inexplicably
on her buttock, but seeping in sheets
from hip seam and arm seam,
from the tight seam that fastened her head,
its bald scalp curl-embossed, stained yellow
for blond. Then I carried Nancy
inside, to sleep with me again,
Nancy, who was supposed to teach me
how to be gentle, to love something smaller
than myself, and helpless.
I kissed her, dressed her, undressed her.
I wedged the kitchen knife into the seam
at her neck, and when I pushed
with all of my weight, part of me did not
want Nancy’s head to pop off,
but part of me did want it to,
so that I could know how the Feed-Me tube
looked, how it stuck to the back of her dark
red lips, and snaked down into her,
so I could know how to put the head
back on again. I remember screaming, and crying,
and my mother running up the stairs,
the doll broken, between my knees, remember
the scent of my mother’s hair as she pressed me
to her chest, saying nothing.
This was before I was afraid of love,
or my body, or the shameless
commodification of girlhood,
before I was afraid of crying
from the farthest reaches of my body
as if I would never stop. It was summer.
My legs were bare. Nancy lie on the floor,
watching, as I wailed with a fury
to know what I still do not know.
Suzanne Cleary won the John Ciardi Prize for Poetry for Beauty Mark, published in 2013 by BkMk Press (U of Missouri-Kansas City). Winner of a Pushcart Prize, her poems have appeared in journals including Poetry London, Poetry International, and The Atlantic, and in anthologies including Best American Poetry. Her previous books are Keeping Time (2002) and Trick Pear (2007). Professor of English at the State University of New York at Rockland, she also teaches as core faculty of the MFA in Creative Writing program of Converse College.