Photo by Jeff Sirkin



This April house. Still the weeping cherry

holus-bolus with robins and blossoms, still

the leaded-glass window cracked neatly

from corner to corner. Lead paint layered

over with new oil-based eggshell, asbestos

tiles clothed with carpet. No posts and boulders

under this house, now a smooth foundation,

concrete and radiant floors heated and even

beneath our feet. The mingy hedges newly

planted. You’ll wonder where the boulders went,

if they lie somewhere in the too-bright sun

longing for the damp dark of their home

for over a century, the chiromancy of worms

and moss, the opossum’s sinewy company

and stink, children’s voices falling through

the floorboard cracks along with dust

and doghair from the jumbled footsteps,

the dancing and chasing, the splinters

and Legos and rainbow hairbands, but

it doesn’t matter anyway, the opossum

is long gone and so are the children.


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*** ** ***




“In my desperation to be a good mother I talked myself into believing that all I was doing was giving my daughter a fair shot.”  –Felicity Huffman


Bridget Bishop was the first of nineteen people executed for witchcraft during the Salem witch trials in 1692.


I left my coffee at home so I make myself a cup

at the orthodontist’s office with the Keurig machine,

plasticky magic they say would wrap twice around

the moon. Plastic-coated tongue, plastic swallows.

My daughter checks in for her appointment

with the automated touch screen and the technician

takes her away to tighten her braces while I wait next

to the magazine-splashed table, modern gossipy almanacs.

Bridget Bishop wafts in, no broom but a cloud of hay and beeswax,

teenage daughter in tow. Ignores the touch screen,

insists on talking to the receptionist. She has few teeth

left but was beautiful once. Men dreamt of her in their beds

and then blamed her for not leaving when her hair turned ashen

and her trim waist pooled beneath her corset. They hated

the way they couldn’t stop thinking about her double-jointed

fingers. Her crime of aging and still throwing her head back

when she laughed.

Bridget picks up an old copy of People. Felicity Huffman

on the cover, headed for jail. What she did for her

children, what we all do. This morning when I asked

my daughter to empty the dishwasher she said

You’re ruining my life. Right now all I see is her bottom half.

The technician tightening her braces hides her from view

but my daughter’s sneakers twitch with each twist of the pliers.

Bridget’s daughter climbs onto the chair next to hers

and they talk about what color rubber bands they’ll choose

for their teeth. Green and black, yellow and orange.

Rainbow. White. Bridget Bishop was accused of witchcraft

because of her sin of color, the looped rainbow laces

of her bodice. Red and gold in a time of black. She traces

Felicity’s white lace turtleneck with her finger,

touches her own grimy collar, pulls a horsehair strand

from the ropeburn wound encircling her neck. Bruises

burgeoning beneath her eyes. She and Felicity whisper

to each other, slender capillary prayers weaving a web

of commonality between them. Mother, wife, martyr, witch.

Felicity closes her eyes and goes back to sleep. Bridget

looks at her watch. She doesn’t touch her seat,

floats just above it. Only half an inch. Nothing furious

or showy. Nothing anyone would notice if they weren’t

paying attention.


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*** ** ***



The ghosts grew up in a cheap house sliding

down the hill. Their ghost parents propped

it up with maple trees and cedar stumps.

Blessed gravel with ectoplasm and buried

it at the four corners. Twined it with blackberry

vines and morning glory.

Still the house slid.

When the ghosts went down the hill to the creek

they could forget about the slipping house.

They let tadpoles swim through their fingers

and watched legs unfurl behind them

like leaves on twigs. Watched red squirrels

turn grey, grey squirrels turn black. Snakes

fell through the tunnels of their own crisp skin.

When winter came, the creek scabbed over

with ice and everything slept– frogs, squirrels,

vines and snakes. Everything but the ghosts

and the house, creeping, creeping

toward the creek.


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*** ** ***



Even if they’ve only done something once

the ghosts call it tradition. They light

the leftover cigarette butts our guests left in the jar

on the front steps and blow smoke at each other

until they’re more smoke than ghost.

They wonder what they really are.

How can they be smoke and still themselves.

They watch our bodies change, cells

sloughing every seven years

into new selves that are still just us.

The ghosts break apart and roll under the bed

with the dust bunnies. The cat comes out

with ghosts in her whiskers and a puffed-up

tail. When I sweep underneath, all I find

are the overdue library books they hid

because they wanted to finish reading them.

They like my daughter’s YA novels the best.

The Fault in Our Stars, The Age of Miracles.

The ghosts reassemble in the corners

behind doors and bookcases. Look at

each other’s non-forms, dryer-lint grey and

curdled like cream, and talk about what

their bodies would look like if they had them.


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*** ** ***



As if the rope was never knotted by her hands,

no bowline or cleat or round-turn and two half-

hitches, as if they hadn’t sailed up the coast

through fields of bioluminescence, cycled

through turns of sleep and wake at the dark

bow watching for rocks in the water.

As if the ghosts hadn’t brought all their work

friends over for her prohibition-era cocktails just

like the ones the ghosts remembered, the

genuine article, bathtub gin, as if she hadn’t

soured her wrist perfecting the lemon twist,

spent her savings filling the cabinet with

antique Libbey glasses, their perfect snappable stems.

As if she hadn’t made excuses to their friends

for the ghosts’ behavior, their jokey meanness

and the way they passed out on the lawn after

drinking and stayed there for all the neighbors

to see on the way to work in the morning,

ghosts like white fungus lumps

sprouting snores on the grass.

The ghosts took the fireplace brick by brick,

patted passing girls’ asses with mortar-powdered

hands, buried old baby shoes in the ashes

for her to find later. The ghosts painted mustaches

on her dead mother’s baby photos and said

What’s the big deal, we’re dead and we don’t mind.

They scratched the table she varnished, slashed

the chairs she reupholstered, cut the brakes

on the car she fixed, tore down the curtains

she’d sewn, smashed the jars of tomatoes

she’d grown and canned.

The ghosts are divorcing my sister.

As if they could ever be more than mist and drift,

as if once, long ago, they believed they could stop

moving, be solid. As if she hadn’t known from

the first. Back on the ocean, when the water’s

push against the boat’s bow sounded just exactly

like someone off in the distance screaming.


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*** ** ***



Black stones on green grass.

The bison herd below spreads

from the trucks that hauled them,

flow like water, shining alluvial gravel.

It could be a game board,

and the bison are polished mancala

stones, the fleet of white trucks

blank dominoes without any pips.

Truck husks, no life left in them—

even the drivers have left,

stepped out to watch

bison spread across grasses

they haven’t bruised in 150 years.

Impossible to see from here how

people so small could even play the game,

let alone win. The important thing

is the big mammals are in it again.

A woolly faculty greening the badlands,

teaching us about restoration

through grazing, through dross.

Teaching us about heritage, about

mistakes and owning

up to them. Already, the drivers

can feel the ground growing

beneath them. A fertile resurgence

under hooves and teeth, under

their wheels as they leave.


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Elizabeth Vignali
is the author of the poetry collection House of the Silverfish (Unsolicited Press 2021) and three chapbooks, the most recent of which is Endangered [Animal] (Floating Bridge Press 2019). Her work has appeared in Willow Springs, Poetry Northwest, Cincinnati Review, Mid-American Review, Tinderbox, The Literary Review, and others. She lives in the Pacific Northwest, where she works as an optician, produces the Bellingham Kitchen Session reading series, and serves as poetry editor of Sweet Tree Review.


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A dozen poets. One a month. Nothing more.