The Art Lesson
I look at Carolyn.
The teacher hovers over her bright shoulder.
We are sisters, bright and dark.
I stuff a bird’s nest into the hollow of the soft stone I have carved.
My mother will not like it.
She will only recognize the beauty
of the smooth hand
Carolyn has carved from alabaster,
That night, I stuff a snarl of Carolyn’s hair into
soft dung from the horse pasture.
I shape the Mimi spirit from the dung
and place it under the register in our room to dry.
When the cold snap hits,
the room takes on a feculent odor
and she wonders what is causing it.
For three days the Mimi spirit fills the room.
I reach under the register
and its outside surface crumbles in my hand.
I scrape its powder into a small pile.
The figure that is left I put in my pocket.
It is hard-baked.
The hand that held it smells like dead grass.
Some of the powder I sprinkle in a fine line
on the top of the frame around her vanity mirror.
The rest I save in my handkerchief.
The Mimi spirit I take back to class
to put in the nest.
My stone is a stone––
with natural holes pockmarking it.
When no one is looking, I cut my finger with an Exacto knife
and collect my blood.
I unball my handkerchief.
I sprinkle the powder into my blood
to make a paste.
I take a fine brush from the cupboard,
paint the Mimi spirit.
They are all in front of me.
The teacher is in front of me.
No one notices.
I hear her laugh.
I pull a loose thread from my skirt
and wind it tight around my finger
until it turns white.
I take moss I’ve gathered from the oak trees
and I make hair.
I take the ankh-shaped clay tool
and scrape a hollow in the stomach of the Mimi doll.
I go to stand beside my sister,
taking the very small sharp paper-cutting scissors.
They are all watching her,
but no one watches the part of her closest to me.
She laughs, creating the diversion I need.
I quickly cut the very small piece
from inside a fold of her full skirt.
Later, she will blame it on moths.
I have told her about cotton-eating moths,
and she is a sister who always believes me.
I go back to my table at the back.
Still, not one has noticed me.
I trim material away from the part of the pattern I seek.
I cut out the very small figure of a child.
I roll the material I have cut away from around the child
into a tight wad
that I stuff into the new womb of the Mimi doll.
I roll the child into a ball
that I chew and chew
I put the Mimi doll back into the nest in the stone.
Tomorrow I will pack it in a box.
Tomorrow I will wrap it in paper and ribbon.
Tomorrow I will give it as a gift to my mother.
Carolyn will give my mother the hand
and she will put it on her dresser
to display her bracelets and rings.
My stone will lie in its box
in my mother’s bottom drawer.
Next week I will steal into my mother’s room.
I will put the box under my sister’s bed for three nights.
I’ve already dug the hole beneath the willow tree—
in the soft soil where my father used to dig and dig.
Years from now, my mother will wonder where that box went.
Carolyn will have gone away before this, but not me.
I’ll say, “I don’t know, maybe Carolyn took it.”
My mother will slide her gold rings from the fingers
of the hand my sister carved for her.
She will love to stroke the cool hand.
But Carolyn will just keep going and never come back.
This is a poem I have written and rewritten over the past thirty years but which I’ve never published. It’s a dark poem and perhaps that is why I’ve never published it. I can’t remember what prompted it. Certainly, nothing from my own life, but I recently found a folder of very old poems and decided to try to rework some of them. “The Art Lesson” is one of them.
for dVerse Poets Pub Open Link Night.