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the daughters play with corpses

BY MADDIE CLEVENSTINE
 

South Carolina Governor's School for the Arts & Humanities, '16
2016 Adroit Prize for Poetry: Editors' List

After Karolin Kluppel's photo series entitled "Kingdom of Girls"

 

i. 

here, dirt becomes mud on weekdays, 
rain soaked girls gunning through

rivers, copper caught between teeth as
they slide dresses over stork bodies, 

arms thin like stalks. in photos they eye
cameras, chest raised with something 

to prove, play charged for the attention. 
here, girls don’t know how to miss 

fathers, raised instead by mother’s eldest
brother, games spreading them across

fields torn by work, freckled wheat boxed
and brought home at the end of work 

days. my experiences lack this same
texture, this splintered home attempting

to become its own kind of kingdom, 
my sisters and i walking hallways naked 

because we can, because men no longer
live here, my father’s belongings 

picked clean, packaged in brown boxes. 
we imagine ourselves as leaders 

of a torn town tucked between mountains, 
grasping bones to use as necklaces, 

claw joints adorning collarbones, this
an act of separation that’s not focused enough, 

the earth unfamiliar with the way we hold
it, cupped in plastic mugs given by our

father, meant to be something other than trash
that can’t be decayed. 


ii. 

where bones stop and fur begins
your daughter grips deer hooves as big

as your hands, marches forward as if
she doesn’t see you standing half-

full like a milk jug left for weeks. 
these carcasses are her playthings,

pulled apart corpses extended in whatever
half-motion stopped them dead: 

i want to send these photos to my father, 
wrapped in pink and gold newspaper

print, edges frayed. he’ll think this means
forgiveness, means i’ve stopped thinking

how the girl’s curved back towards
dirt is almost a prayer, her childhood still 

round and earthen, faces shorn by fathers
unpicking animals. he can’t know 

this is another one of those reminders
for the time my youngest sister dug

underneath mountains made of multi-
colored cotton, refused to move 

from her closet, kept waiting for someone
to find her. no one did, no one even 

thought to look. 


iii. 

green winged insects crawl the expanse of
a village girl’s cheeks, circle her eyelids, 

rest delicate toes in between lips left open
for air. she won’t dart them away, hands

flat against her pant leg. these bugs could
make homes on her neck, lie in the creased 

fold of ear, sleep atop shoulder
blade and this girl wouldn’t move, 

wouldn’t find any reason to shake them
away. i know different, at home 

my father taught slaughter, taught waiting
until bug touched down for an easier angle, 

guts coloring yellowed walls. a game
for most dead, his daughters pinching tissue 

between fingers, watching beetle legs pump up
cabinets, wings folded against bodies

trying for speed, trying to outrace young
hands. they don’t know we’d rather watch

them roam, father no longer around to keep
tally of all the times we win, no pride

in body parts staining every surface spotted, 
leaves the house quiet enough to hear

everything, a reminder that all days have sound. 

 

 

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Maddie Clevenstine is a high school senior at the South Carolina Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities, where she concentrates in creative writing. Previously, her poetry and prose have been recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards.