Esther Mathieu is a writer and artist from Queens, NY. She graduated from Colby College in 2017 with honors in an independent major in Environmental Planning, Media, and Design. Her first collection, Constellations, was published with Hunt & Light in 2015.
Does it feel to you too
like someone reached in the hollow space of your chest,
rattled through your torso and left your organs out of place?
My lungs catch air sideways now, is all I can say.
My heart is off its rhythm.
When I asked for something stable to stand on,
something less shifting than the sea,
the only promise they gave me was
wait a little longer.
When I scratched through my own flesh,
layer of skin, layer of skin, layer of skin,
layer of muscle,
layer of bone—
at the end the blood was coming from nowhere, from everywhere.
My body is a burnt-out husk—
you have seen them, the ground where something used to be,
that barn back in the forest,
the hull of a ruined church.
When I stand
at the edge
of the ocean
I always imagine
never coming back.
The only good myth we had at my college,
buried under feet of February snow,
was the ghosts in the drama building.
I heard campus security
wouldn’t even go up to lock the third floor at night.
I heard the phone used to just
Why is it always dead girls, in the stories?
I liked to tell people about the
Colby Murders—all I knew was:
different parking lots, different years.
When I heard the first one, they told me
all the grisly details, the way they found her.
before performances of Orlando and original dance,
Runnals was the women’s union.
I heard once the ghost was a girl who jumped
from the third floor window.
Or I think, anyway,
it could have just been TV.
There is always
a white girl, always
a white dress.
I was the only one who wanted
to meet a ghost.
I was full of wanting.
I can almost see them
sitting on the desk while I’m working,
knees pulled close to translucent chest,
sprawled in empty space above my bed—
hovering, only just.
I can imagine faces, hands—
people in the darkness.
The other myth we had: that the blue light
at the top of the library tower would go out
if anybody graduated a virgin.
We joked for weeks—
about the light going out on my graduation day.
It didn’t, so
that's one myth busted.
And one more: when you leave here, you will be
When you leave here you will know
all the essential things, like
life, condensed into a manual.
Like the little pink pieces
in the board game Life, slotted into
little pink cars.
I never believed in ghosts before but
something about the three years there made me believe.
Something about climbing trees late at night,
half hoping to slip on ice and break my neck;
something about lying on the grass, always damp
from sprinklers and rain and mist;
something about the way I always felt like I was haunting something.
It was easy to know there was something in the woods,
maybe in the buildings.
When I go back
I will lock myself on the third floor,
wait for someone body-less to show her face.
I am not much more than I was when I arrived.
Things I was then: a fistful of flame, a hunger,
soft lavender leaves,
a tempest full of rage and broken branches.
Things I am now: harder.
Also, better at mending.
Here are all my good days in a cardboard box—
would you like them?
My bad days are in the backyard, making trouble.
I let them run wild because at least then they are free.
I let them fill me to my very brim.
In the end, I swallow remedies in silvered potions,
fold myself in softness til I’m well again or
good enough to count out beads and buttons,
make some sense of my own disarray.
From the start I was a wild thing or
stuff of nightmares—
something from the bottom of the sea.
My skin gives me the sense of something patched together.
The outside air is a thing I’ve learned to live on.
When I asked her what to do my mother mostly said love.
I am still trying to write the poem that will make me stop wondering.
I am still trying to find words
that are certain enough for me to understand
just one dose of daylight.
I can’t say what it is
that has made the difference.
I won’t say that
anybody saved me.
We are at the end now and the days are longer.
I still have loose threads,
sharp glass edges.
I am better now at making do.
I have just as many pieces as my first day,
just a little more strength for the journey.