Poetry by Shelby Vane: “If you are rebuilding me then I will learn”


living up north, all nail-eyed and thick
as blanched driftwood, that my father
was dying that
his body was about to hit the water that all I knew
about burials was mud & thirst
& naked shapes.

I told him he will know
me in thirteen years as the woman who is
afraid of holding anything of value
in her hands, that of course I’m just a tight-
roofed sparrow-body waiting
to lean in and smell the dust and armies
of rain that have died on your skin.

In dream sleep
your body finds my back pressed like a stamp, sticky
against yours. You can go weeks forgetting about me,
like your face wild in my hands like finger-lick like

let me taste. If we still care in 100 years, if we remember
after all that time, I’ll come find you with my boots
laced up my shin skin, scattering the ashes of your name

around your fort in the woods, barred door holding
its shape like a prayer with an empty room inside it.
Even now, if I followed the oil-blackened river

with my barest moments building a nest
of paper & spit inside me, I’d see your ink falling
from the leaves like drop dumplings, and I know

I’d reach you.


Of course I go to you, body remembering the draw: nothing quite as hot
as that,
tongue says
perhaps it’s the smoke and forgetting to ask
for more water, jaw covered in red sap

not like, but—exactly the same—as children sucking spoiled
strawberry heads: It’s not about the bite but the juice that slips
from the lips down the chin,

letting the sweet syrup plump the shriveled flesh.

I wear a blue dress, split open in the back, hanging off me
like torn petals after a hard rain. It’s been a hard night: Take it off.
Put your fingers in your ears. of me, gulping her down, bearing   down

upon the sweetness. You are the man who is making a pathway
through the thatch of thorns. No place exists until you touch
it with your mouth. I cannot look away, all I can muster
with my quiet, monkish heart thrumming perfect

and guilty. If you are rebuilding me then I will learn
to leave you and return unfinished, half scrap & scruff.
God bless your not-usual, God bless your true-blue
mouth finishing me in a light around a light around a room.


I’ve been meaning to tell you how night
gas stations will begin to feel like
home. You will need to take control

of the situation. Lean back
on him, talk dirty, say it’s funny how we met
like this.
Don’t laugh at your own

irony. Instead, say if I had grown up
with a father,
say it might’ve been
say can you hear that? Say there,

that feels better. Forget the part
where you begin to notice the speed
in which everything is replaced: that dress

that body that scent that smile the way
he’d look over his shoulder
as if to say look what I just did for you.


Mine, fat-lipped things
with no direction. They are ugly
next to hers; trinkets lost between their cushions,
only to emerge later, flapped and see-thru
and wrapped in skin-smell.
I can’t imagine them any thinner.
They teardrop dangle with their wine-
colored stretch marks against my ribs,
the meat of them: on their own revolution,
grown to stretch the fabric of every blouse,
every bad plan, every silliest thing
slipping below the neckline.
They won’t stay put unless I tell them
to. Go, I say, in an exaggerated movement
of fingers and wrists, to the best pair
of lips you’ve ever seen.

Shelby Vane is an MFA candidate at Chatham University. She has had poems published in “SOFTBLOW,” “The Summerset Review,” and “PIF Magazine,” among others.

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