Alison Stine is a writer, artist, and author of five books: The Protectors (Little A, 2016), Supervision (HarperVoyagerUK, 2015), Wait (University of Wisconsin Press, 2011), Ohio Violence (University of North Texas Press, 2009), and Lot of My Sister (Kent State University Press, 2001). Her awards include an NEA Fellowship, an Ohio Arts Council grant, a Wallace Stegner Fellowship, a Ruth Lilly Fellowship, and a grant from the Sustainable Arts Foundation. Her essays and poems have appeared in the Atlantic, The Nation, The Toast, the Kenyon Review, and many others. She has also been a storyteller on The Moth. She lives in the foothills of Appalachia with her son.
Afterward, the world was divided into women:
women who’d given birth, and women who
hadn’t. It was like I was part of a secret club.
Pain was our password. Those who hadn’t—
what did they know of hurt? What had I?
They were like perpetual teenagers, or time
travelers who’d gotten stuck. Thin, shellacked,
they would never grow old. Afterward, my body
began to hollow out. It turned out he needed
everything: my hips, my thighs, the back of my arms,
my last name. And that was the secret—to give
without words, only shh shh. And this was the sadness
my mother bore in giving birth to a girl:
one day I would know what she had done.
I’m sorry that I never got to tell you
that I left him. Or rather, he left me.
But when he rattled the door so hard
it began to breathe like an animal,
I wouldn’t open it. I wouldn’t open it.
I wouldn’t let back him in. I made up
a fairy tale in which I mattered,
the rats in the garbage lot were kings.
Mostly I remember it raining, wrapped
in quilts. You on your seventh cup,
porch cold. That was a white-sky
summer. I brought all the wrong things.
Woke one morning to an ax. My tongue
turned to bark—and I never got
its name. I was careful not to spill
the drinks lined up like turrets, soft wooden
thwack of my heels on the sash.
I am the kind of girl who walks through
windows. Or rather, I was. Nothing
was found, not bears, not berries, not any
kind of way. The hardest thing
about this story of women is that it stars men.
This is something that you see: the slow
formation of a path, not the real
path or road, but the one that is convenient,
the one you grow accustomed to treading
until the grass dies. Desire path, desire lines.
Women begin to matter, thinner than our
lives, off to the side. If I could chew tobacco
in the shape of limbs. If I could patch a map
through dead light. If the motorbike led
anywhere but back. If I bled
gasoline, I could go. I could know
myself. The coffee so weak, it was like
drinking river. I had an answer but it wasn’t
right. This is something that you see.
He tried to use my name through
great crowds to get to you. He
pushed me through a gone city. Alone
is much better than the wrong man. A man
I danced with died just months before you.
All other men mean nothing, now I shelter
a black wing. I sing of no cage but my own.
You seemed genuinely to believe in me.
I imagine you might be proud I have made my way
through great sheets of rock, carved by shadows
into the shape of those who have harmed us.
I imagine you would tell me not to be so hard.
I imagine you would tell me to love my son
though he came from pain, into pain.
You imagined that love would lead us—
and you were right. And these are the letters
I never wrote you. And these are the times
I never told you I was fine, I was happy,
I was thankful, I love you. And you were right
when you insisted, hair falling straight as water,
over the faded double ring, Why can’t it all
work out for you, Ali? Why can’t it?