Black swans huddled close, eyes yellow with fear, tripping over feet in a claustrophobic cavern. Can’t find the light switch, or the doorknob to the sky. Doubts fall from the flapping, the beat of their wings can’t keep up with the metronome. Hot air bounces off the walls, which bend and crack from the echoes of their panicked cackling, causing her brain to swell from all the sighing.

She wakes from the nightmare, her pulse hot like mares chased by stallions trampling ground. She can’t catch breaths because the smoke from Manchester rising faster than the sun.

Watch out, little girl, blood boils, thick oil is spilling out, coming to ruin you next, and the man hole won’t be enough to swallow the monstrous mess your father made.

How is she supposed to walk on untainted when the rain won’t slow down for her to jump on the train that whizzes by, the blue bullet of hope that carries her to the town of freedom. She found the fox in the forest of repose; the hunter can’t get his hide because the grass is still asleep. But the fickle webs of tangled kelp that washed onto the shores of stone, found her nest and choked her heart with soot; oceans filled with unsalted oysters ooze out of her ears until she tastes the black pepper that burns holes in lungs, the souls of her shoes.

Life is a cassette she wished to rewind, to edit out the haunting memories of her childhood: the tire swing that creaks with the squeaking hinges of the front door, those long loose floorboards- skinny as her hungry frame, a sign of the neglect she ate most nights- hold her secrets, the ones she stole to save him: those bottles of whiskey wasting away the pain because it was her fault that mother died when she was born, those cartridges she found in her father’s desk drawer beside the crayon doodles her five-year-old self gave him on his birthday. But she didn’t find all of them. Pictures of “Me and Daddy” trashed who-knows-where, scattered in the tatters of the whistling wind, lost years when her tears were the only caring gifts she could afford. He was always somewhere else, in a bar, passed out in the house on the floor, absent in his mind in his words in his love to her. She hates and is jealous of the oak tree out back, holding scars that don’t compare to her scarred, grown-up heart, telling of the noose that cradled his last breath, the tree that gave and took more than she ever received from him. She pressed rewind, but all she got was the clicking and screwing up of the tape, now knotted and gnarled like the tree that yanked her father’s voiceless face out of her pictures. Creak, squeak, shudder, sighs the empty tire swing.

How can she rope these birds to wash their feathers so that they may fly again, so that they may be seen in truth: white as the shirt hung out to dry, blowing in the wind with the windmill keeping her energy going so that she can sleep, so that she can live, alive.

What is dying if she will just open her eyes again, to find that her hands were made to dig for gold, but right now she misses the mark because depth perception in this gravity is like looking in a broken magnifying glass and only coming up with grub worms.

The dirt of the earth is her skin; and for now, she must accept the exceptions that humanity is weak, shovels cause blisters, and oil will always stain swan feathers.

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