1. The color I dye my hair. The color of nitrile rubber gloves. Three bowls of thick dye, painted onto my scalp until it burns. My hair grows and pools around my shoulders, over my breasts. This is how I own the ocean.    

3. The outline of an area or figure. It is hard to imagine what something once looked like after years of it being beaten into place. Carved out of wood. Leather belts worn to soft. Pushed and pulled and ready-made: my unforgiving body.

5. Red liquid. It circulates inside of humans and other animals. The pain is deep. Unsettling. Not at all the same as a stomachache. Or cramps. The ache feels like it is within me. Familiar, though I have never felt it before. There will be some bleeding, my doctor says. She hands me a pad on my way out. Because I am too afraid that riding my bike will knock something loose, I walk to school to teach. During class, my uterus weeps. I am wearing a white dress with red stripes.     

7. Tiny T-shaped piece of plastic. A contraceptive device. A plan. Sometimes, I imagine it as a little burning match inside me. Every month, I am supposed to check that it’s still there. I am supposed to reach and feel for the stiff strings. I haven’t checked since the first month. Since the implantation, I have felt heavier. 

8. Deliberate termination of a human pregnancy. When I get my IUD, it is because I am turning twenty-six and losing my insurance. In Lubbock, Texas, I would have to drive over 300 miles to get one. It is a desert. The tumbleweeds look like empty nests as they drift across cotton fields.

9. An intense feeling of deep affection, often romantic attachment. My boyfriend was always laughing at me; as he fucked other girls, as I drank myself into a stupor, trying to convince myself that I felt it. That laugh lived in his throat.       

10. The physical structure of a person or an animal, including the bones, flesh, and organs. I pinch my skin in the shower, as though I can measure with my fingers how much of it I wish would disappear. Which part do I hate the most?


2. All things. When something is missing, what shape does it take? What does that emptiness look like? Does it look like nothing, or does it look like something necessary?

4. Rubber contraceptive worn during intercourse. The first and only time I take Plan B, my boyfriend can’t buy it for me because he doesn’t have enough money. We go to CVS with his roommate, who pays the fifty dollars. It had been like a scavenger hunt; we had searched in the bed, on the floor, in the folds of our skin. It had slipped off inside of me: it flowered there until I pulled it out in the bathroom. It fell out with a splash. My boyfriend laughed.

6. A group consisting of parents and children living together in a household. My gynecologist pushes deep inside and it feels like she’s rummaging around in there. Setting up shop. Taking small, intricate figurines and playing house. You’re going to feel some pressure, she says, and a click, she says, and I do, and I do, and it feels otherworldly, like something blooming.

Sara Ryan is the author of the chapbooks Never Leave the Foot of an Animal Unskinned (Porkbelly Press) and Excellent Evidence of Human Activity (The Cupboard Pamphlet). In 2018, she won Grist’s Pro Forma Contest and Cutbank’s Big Sky, Small Prose Contest. Her work has been published in or is forthcoming from Kenyon Review, Pleiades, DIAGRAM, Prairie Schooner, Thrush Poetry Journal and others. She is currently pursuing her PhD at Texas Tech University. You can find more of her work at