With one eye half open, she looks at me
as I clean off her red-smeared socket crust.
The wet Q-tip I’m using
looks like it’s covered in dark blood,
but it’s red porphyrin,
a profusion of stress
swallowed by cotton.
She pulses as I hold her.
Tuffs of soft white hair
fall onto the ground.
I grip tighter the more she struggles.
I can feel her undulate,
her rib cage flatten, her organs
shift, and her legs give out
to slip further out of my grasp
onto the couch and away from me.
Her skeleton is the same as mine,
but she is not me.
Only when the Q-tip
comes into her view
does she become still.
But she does not flinch like I do whenever
a hand is raised. She stares hard
when I look down.
She is not a child whose mother
grabs her hair at the grocery store,
a child who struggles until the pain is too much.
She is not me giving in under my mother’s grip.
The Q-tip in my hand will not hurt her.
I know she needs cleaning.
She gently pulses in my grasp.
She trembles then like I do.
- Katie Pagano
Katie Pagano was born in New Jersey, lived in New York, and currently resides in Etna. She has a master’s-of-fine-arts degree from Chatham University and a BA from the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg. She writes poetry and operating instructions for computed tomography injection systems. Many writers featured in Chapter & Verse are guests of Prosody, produced by Jan Beatty. Prosody airs every Saturday morning on WESA 90.5 FM.