The List of Dangers


The black windows looked out onto the black lawn.
—Larry Levis

No one except the three daughters checked off
     the list of dangers. It was like when the wolf ate
          chalk to soften his voice, but the white goats

knew him by his black paws. They filled his gut
     with stones and led him to water so black, it erased
          itself from photographs. No one except the three

knew of hidden rooms in the forsythia, a brittle nest
     for curling into when the neighbor boys chased them
          through the yards. It was not a list of dangers,

but fears. Their father said they had to leave.
     There would be no more safe enclosures.
          No door of yellow, star-shaped flowers.

There were black boys in the city. They would be
     waiting when the girls stepped off the school bus.
          White flight, thought the daughters, as they fled

down a corridor of blossoming pear trees. A child
     crossing the street repeated, Red hand changes
          to white man walking. The sun was a saw blade,

a yellow circle with teeth. Terrible birds with plumage
     of fire scorched whatever they touched: The black
          mailbox opened its mouth to the black street.

The daughters checked them off. It was more than a list.
     Each X clicked like a typewriter key, imprinting the sleep
          of those who still slept. Nothing stays good for long—

not the new neighborhood with its wrist full of charms,
     not the last tier of wedding cake in the icebox, white
          and glittering like a glacier. No one was preserved,

an heirloom apple. Not even the three daughters
     would taste exactly as girls did hundreds of years ago.

Originally appeared in The Florida Review


The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison

The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison