By: Jeni O’Neal
A Daughter in Parts (I)
Daughter as crème brulee, sweet shell
and your spoon precariously above, ready
to tap, crack, taste, Daughter as sword swallower, as fire-
eater, smoke breather, as sacrifice, as edifice, as coughdrop
swallowed by accident. Daughter as shrine
to her mother’s high school yearbook, as yardstick, as match.
Daughter will catch-as-catch-can, as voodoo
doll struck twice across the mouth, frantic
closures, forced errors, pins in all that rag
doll soft. Daughter as doormat, as dirt trap, as gravel
pit, as collection of cars across interstate lines, as green
lawned cul-de-sac, as dead-end, as alley.
Daughter alone in too many alleys
Daughter as Bougainvillea vines, as spider web
laden, as dove, as falcon, as cry that threw stars to sky. Daughter
as town-crier, always crying, daughter with the ocean
and two eye holes, seeing too much, eyes that cannot shut.
Daughter as window, as lighthouse, as lightening.
Daughter is light-as-a-feather and stiff-as-a-board, daughter
as ten dollar whore, Boys are coming: Sally-bar-the-door, daughter
keeps mouthing more, more.
Daughter as spectacle, as spit-cleaned, as splatter,
as storm-drain, as wrong turn then sharp
pain. Daughter as too much matter.
Daughter, daughter, what’s the matter?
Daughter as louse, garden mouse, spicket.
Daughter darlin’ in the thick of it.
Daughter as pit, pistol, plight.
Daughter is pistoning from daddy to daddy.
Daughter awake all night every night.
A Daughter in Parts (II)
They dressed her in rose petals and glass underwear. They wished her to be beautiful on the inside, too, and so gave her icicles and honeysuckle to eat. They hoped she would sparkle and gleam like a new road in a country club. They needed their daughter to remain holy and so planted a church inside her skull, right after the baptism, with her lace dress plastered to her girl ribs, in the church bathroom she looked at her wet head in the mirror— but didn’t see the beauty or the holy. She
could, however, feel the planted church already growing in the bumps of bone under her hair, right at the nape, it grew in tiny, painful ways until anyone (who looked close enough) could see it. They wanted her struggle to have meaning so they gave her a gold-paged King James Bible, pink leather, embossed with her name, “whenever Jesus speaks it’s in red, see?”For years and years she searched for meaning in red words, then just words, then just red. They taught her “His Eye is On the
Sparrow” and sent her to one stage, then another, then another. The girl liked singing but not the
eyes on her. Her mother had intricate portraits made: Daughter Crossing Pond on White Bridge, Daughter Reading Bible in Taffeta Dress, Daughter in Fur Coat (Rabbit) that Matches Mommy’s Fur Coat (Mink) and her father said: “You’ve got to burn to shine.”
II. Daughter Washes up on the Shore of an Apartment Landing
—from all the hurt, the mean, the cruel, all that she did and did not do, even to herself, on herself,
her very self: like she was the mountain and the capitalist, the miner, mine and coal all at once, only doing what was necessary, the pinprick, the gutting, the gaining, the gauging, the getting, all that she did or allowed or did not scream loud enough to stop, and then the years after the scream that never stopped anything a tea kettle lived in her throat, wavering high-pitch whistle all the time but when she opened her mouth, nothing but steam. all that she bared her teeth, all that she groveled, all that she rearranged and did again, same things in slanted light—
should you forgive her?
A Daughter in Parts (Part III)
Daughter as pill-popper, as piss-ant, as jaw-dropper
Daughter eating curds and whey all day everyday. Daughter
as brown spot on the inside of the arm, as brown
bag, as old hag.
Daughter as joke, as gag, as punching bag.
Daughter as snail without shell, as beached whale.
Daughter as little miss Muffet complete with her tuffet.
Daughter as failed test, must remediate, as jail-bate, as fish-bait, worm
wriggling on the line.
Daughter as paddy-cake, as baker, as bank-roll, as dough,
as doe in the forest struck through with a bow.
(Beaus upon beaus with chapeaux drew her flame, boys
and their actions she would later rename).
Daughter as cocktail waitress, as dime-store poor, as disco
ball loud and non-stop spinning, as over-stuffed ashtray.
Daughter stays okay, stays okay, stays okay, keeps outrunning
her shoes, shaking off old selves, split shells, snaking
out of shedding skin, daughter as rail thin.
Daughter writhing, tossing, turning, Daughter struggling.
Daughter as sweet, sickening fruit
gone too long, as sickening.
Daughter so sick it must be a reckoning.
She must bring a reckoning.
She must bring a right to things.
Jeni has a B.F.A from New York University, a J.D. from U.N.C. Chapel Hill Law School, and an M.F.A. from U.N.C. Greensboro’s Creative Writing program. Jeni won the Doris Betts award for her poetry from U.N.C. Jeni currently teaches at Guilford College.