Issue > Poetry
Cynthia Atkins

Cynthia Atkins

Cynthia Atkins is the author of Psyche's Weathers, In The Event of Full Disclosure, and the forthcoming book, Still-Life With God. Her work has appeared in numerous journals, including Alaska Quarterly Review, Apogee, BOMB, Flock Lit, Florida Review, Tampa Review, Thrush, Tinderbox Poetry Review, North American Review, and Rust Moth, among many others. Atkins lives on the Maury River of Rockbridge County, VA and teaches creative writing at Blue Ridge Community College.

Self-Portrait With Hermit Spider

My body was tendered and grown
to keep something else alive.
In a dream, I saw my son intertwined
between the thinnest threads housing
to connect us.  His eyes were wide
as the mouth of a river after a storm.
I saw all my flaws in his reflection.  
        I saw the moon like a pair
of cupped hands, asking—
for the portal to that webbed
room where the dead meet
the undead.   Trick of life
        that lights the interior
hallway—sight and sound and longing.
I greeted my child in all my arms.  
Never born, my other child was made
by a glitch of cells under a desk with a boss
        I called Mister Francis—Our legs
wrapped in viscid love, as tips fell
from my pockets.  Some days, a wave
moves through a room, a familiar voice
I can't place.  A revenant behind the drapes—
I strung no balloons, fixed no lunch sandwiches.
      No sugar cubes glued
to a looming fortress.   I held my feet
in the cold stirrups.  The nurse's smile coming
at me like steam on a bellowing train.  
     Once, a man shoved my head into a mattress
and pleasured himself.  As he zipped up, I watched
     a spider stage the air.   That night, my sisters and I
held a séance.   We called on cures, hand-written
notes lining the pockets of our old dead aunts.  
Our mother never told us there would be
real monsters.  Through a crack in the door, I saw her
talking to air, flirting with the wrath of God.

Before the Lies

Once I stepped on the sidewalk crack
and they told me it was my mother's back.
That was the beginning of the lie—It was
the dress I took to the cleaners
to have a toxic stain removed.
Off the conveyor belt, it came back sealed
in plastic, smelling like a vacuum.
My dress returned virginal—only two
letters away from vaginal.  I was lied to
by a man with a hole in his condom.  I was told
heaven was the place you'd want to take
a vacation—a land of puff without doom.
I've learned that words matter, but words lie,
yes, they do.   Once I stepped on her back
and got slapped, got smashed by something
that wasn't' love, but an empty hole
of lonely.  Her mixed cocktail of bitters.
One snowy night, the mirror cracked.
I spent hours bemoaning a towering
pimple, its hideous bulls-eye hitting
my upper lip with a bottomless pit
of ugly. I was pretty, pretty ugly.
There was a time before the lies—
When our 1st grade teacher read us
Charlotte's Web after lunch. Sleepily
on our magic carpets, her voice canopied
the florescent lights.  Her pauses riffing
on each snort, and guffaw.  The voice,
a spider jostling air into the heft
of words.  Salutations rolling over
the teacher's tongue, became talismans
beyond all the cracks, lies and laundromats.  
The earth opened to a place where language
hoards the silence, animals in a barn of breathing.


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