Fall 2019, Volume 27

Poetry by Ariel Machell

The Night Bulging with the Unsaid Said

Over the phone, I could lie
sweetly to my mind’s 
eye, picture you whole
and in slippers on the couch,
mint tea with a whisper 
of cream, dance of orchids 
and lighthouses along 
the walls, other garage 
sale finds, placards that read: 

Seeing you is another story,
baby bird down, mascara clinging
to four lashes, and you say,
“Look: my nails are all falling off,
you know how I prided my feet,”
and I say “They’ll grow back,”
and you nod, say “I’m not bothering
with the wigs” and I wonder
if it’s because of your mother,
then wonder if it’s because everything
is because of mine.  

Now the night is bulging
with the unsaid said, both
of them settling between us,
bruising their way into
the lamplight, and I’m pretending
this new picture of them 
(flawed in all the familiar ways)
doesn’t hurt me, and you 
pretend I already knew,
that I’m not discovering them 
for the first time.

“You know how they were,”
you say, as if sharing a secret,
and I think: you can make
a wish on anything. I do 
with the cat whisker blossoming
from the couch cushion, twirl it 
between my fingers and blow, 
watch it flutter to the wood floor, 
the prickling remnants of the wish 
already cooling. “Yes,” I say, and
“Do you want some more tea?” 
and “Can you keep anything 
else down?” and you say 
“I’m not hungry."


The first time I imagined my own death I was 
playing hangman with my mother. The word
was “jaguar” after the plushie I’d cruelly 
given a haircut the morning before, its fur 
standing up in horrible tufts, bald chunks 
scattered amongst the spots across its hide. 
It sat ugly and gargoyled on the coffee table, 
leering at the steady build-up of body parts 
beneath the makeshift noose. I had successfully 
guessed “u” “a” and “r” but I was never meant 
to win, clinging as I did to the conviction that words 
should sound the way they’re spelled. No,
the other way around. The shadow of a tractor
in a wheat field. Paper all over the floor from hours
of playing. My mother leaning in to draw the last
foot-as-oval. What a strange game it is to play 
with a child—assembly of shapes and lines morphing 
into anatomy and first death: full-bodied 
and stiff at the end of a blue-crayon-rope, 
the letters at my feet, my mother looking on.



BIO: Ariel Machell is a poet from California. She earned her BA from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles where she received the Gene and Etta Silverman award in poetry. She is a first year MFA-candidate at the University of Oregon. Her work has been published and is forthcoming in Gravel, Landlocked, and Up the Staircase Quarterly.