1. The first time a wooden hanger hit my thigh,
I crawled into a storybook of Arabian nights,
And burrowed through the pages, deep into silence and inky walls
Every story a new home
Save for two.
The tale of an ungrateful boy who out of greed killed his wife and mother
Left me cold and angry
The man who cut off his sister’s hand made me crumple the pages.
I grieved for those women, wise and good and wronged
But wondered how they were so resigned to their tragedy
Sad about their own deaths like one is sad about the burning of a library.
Lizbet. Fatima. I remember their names.
2. The time a belt buckle gave me a bruise
I dove down an illustrated edition of Pinnochio,
Nearly the size of my seven-year-old torso
I loved the sparkly tuna sprawled across two full pages
but mourned the beautiful blue fairy
Who dies in the book
I skipped that part on every reread.
3. On nights too loud to fall asleep,
I took up with a feuilleton about a thief in Ancient China
The Merry Dragon drew white peach flowers on walls
And loved a cunning housemaid who outsmarted his schemes.
Later I found his Turkish cousin, Nasraddin
Who talked to donkeys and fed his tunic banquet dinners
Their clever lives drowned out my other noises.
Nasraddin’s wife was by turns even-headed advisor and witty foil
She had no name, so I named her
Mira, after my great-grandmother
Another clever woman
I drew her portrait in blue pen above a chapter name
I cried when she died
Nasraddin’s new wife had a name, Nazira
And she outsmarted a greedy judge in her first tale.
4. My stories piled one atop another until they toppled
And I had to make a new pile, and another
They grew as I did.
My shelves are never organized, these days, and they buckle
But they hold up, mostly,
They hold me up
No one pushes me down a book but myself, now.
I jump, eager
And curl around the pages like an ink drawing,
Sparkly like Pinnochio’s tuna and delicate like a peach flower
Sweet like Nasraddin’s figs
And clever, so very clever,
Like those women who survived the Arabian nights
And those who didn’t.
I carry their tales in my pages
They smile on me when I sleep
Ana Gardner is an Eastern European immigrant currently teaching at a small liberal arts college in Massachusetts. Her works have previously appeared in The Colored Lens, The Dime Show Review, and others, and are upcoming in Corvid Queen. You can find me on Twitter at @whataremetaphor