Issue > Poetry
Hilary Varner

Hilary Varner

Hilary Varner received her MFA in Poetry from Warren Wilson College. Her work has appeared in The Collagist, SWWIM, Juked, and elsewhere. She currently lives with her husband and three children in Plainfield, IL.

Dry Socket

Temperatures will reach seventy-one by noon, they said.
Below the little maple outside
the short grass is almost stiff
with winter's seeping snows
and the past month's soaking rain

but by sundown
my mother forgets she's home,
forgets me, asks to go, asks me
if I'm renting space upstairs,
tells me not to give her things away.


I tried to tell my mother
about my dentist forcing the cold water
into and out of the dry socket
like a quiver of tooth-white arrows
intent on gouging the exposed bone
and shooting up through my skull

but only her mother part understood,
saying adamantly, No, no codeine, no,
as she closed her eyes and shook her head
at my disobedience, at me happy still
to be able to be disobedient. Some pain
yanks you beyond humor,

back to childhood. Although
you know you're grown
when they know
you'll hold your own hands down.
When you think, I could let this go on
awhile, these matronly women over me
clucking Poor Thing under the light.


Last summer,
the temperature more like ninety-five,
G——'s voices almost killed her
with commands for coffee enemas and water.
When B—— tried to bring our big sister home,
a voice like the demons
we don't believe in
growled out of her,
Remember what we said?

I think I will remember enough  
for me and my mother
as I watch the tree's stretched branches hold
pockets of puckered red buds
itching to open along the curved, grey twigs
and up towards their quivering ends
to point to and be backed by blue sky.


I will never be able to tell my mother
how B—— stood up for the first time
as a lawyer before a judge and
next to our mother herself,
who didn't know where to stand,
and with my father, his own voices, his will
we two are not in, and G——

standing on the other side.
How as the December cold encased the grey concrete court
I had to put my hand on my mother's back,
and feel like the child, once again,

who has to be the perfect child,
who has to be the parent.
How I had to be proud of my little sister
for all of us. How only we could say
our big sister had to go away.


I have been nauseated for months but last week
I vomited for fifteen hours
and lost the pulpy clot in my jaw again.
Yes, said my dentist, but the hole
should still be healing
. Looked at me.
Why isn't it healing? When I look,
the tiniest sparrow I've ever seen
flies into the tree, and his breast,
no matter how much I squint,
is the impossible color of new leaves.


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