Held up in a defensive position in baby photographs, clenched.

Were raised against me.

Looked like they were planted in the ground and nibbled on by tiny voles.

To measure with, when a horse was sixteen hands of blackness.

My husband’s—the feel of sunbaked mud, always hot in the dead of winter, a young man inside their cracked skin.

Shaking, the water spilling before I can reach my lips, spilling, always spilling.


How life began—branches in a windstorm banging in my nursery with a shattering force.

Ledge on the second story wide enough to step out into the crabapple and snake down without my parents knowing.

Unmastered anger, scars where shards from the glass I punched through stuck, tore, and pockmarked the skin, twinkling like snowflakes.

“When the bare eyes were before me / And the hissing hair, / Held up at a window, seen through a door.”

Star-shaped behind my lover’s bed, where we watched the hexagons fall, so close we could have touched them drifting, light into light.

Sliding glass door the red-bellied woodpecker flew into over and over, seeing a reflection of herself—at the end covered with squiggles and claw marks, thick milky deposits where her beak landed, but never broken through.


Roped to it in punishment for punching Bruce Wray on the playground.

Deborah’s in sixth grade after her father died, as if made of stone, scarred with names and stars.

Near the oaks at the bottom of a dream, in tall pale grass, my mother sitting in it, a bouquet of red roses spilling onto her lap, cows in a circle around her, their deity.

At the eternal birthday party, arranged in rows like pews, the push and shove to reach one before the music stops.

In the middle of a field, an apple on its seat, horses grazing.

Patting the cracked leather seat, the barber saying, “Come here, come here.”


Swaddled in blankets, small among the snowy folds on my mother’s bed.

Following the trail of powdered dust, fine as confectioner’s sugar in the orchard the day my father died.

Little gloves my neighbor donned for bed after lathering her hands with Vaseline.

Deborah’s blouse in sixth grade, the uniform of perfection, where no girl could live, like thick whole milk served in tall glasses that made me gag.

A branch of cherry blossoms, the imageless body.

The shroud of an old woman whose face has been picked clean.


Not a strand afloat on the polished parquet floor.

Snippet of my horse’s wiry mane that I cut and curled around my finger as if it belonged there.

After eighteen years of marriage and the birth of two children, it fell below the waist, straight as a sheet of paper, with its blonde ends dark, as if dipped in ink, and I said, “Cut it off.”

“Off,” I said again, making a stab in the air like decapitation.

My daughter with her arms full of the blonde mass, swaddling it like a baby, and sobbing, “I want it back.”

Now in my dresser drawer, nesting with everything else I can never throw away.


Dead, slender head pointing toward the street, angled over the lip of the sidewalk, eyes staring open, glassy and lustrous.

Fawn in the tall ferns under the redbud sleeping so soundly I wondered if it was alive.

Singular and plural, always to the side, seen out of the corner of the eye, a change of vibrations in the candle-lit dark, outside, below in the snow, a group gathered, edges of their bodies disintegrating, undone by the great dark, I above their patron saint.

That cannot be ridden, belonging to no one, seen everywhere I look, and I don’t look away.

The buck rotating his head and focusing, moving toward an opening of light, his eye hanging on a line running to me, then turns, snorts long and velvet, and leaps into the woods.

To follow him anywhere, light into light, dark into dark.

Marcia Aldrich is the author of the free memoir Girl Rearing, published by W.W. Norton, and of Companion to an Untold Story, which won the AWP Award in Creative Nonfiction. She is the editor of Waveform: Twenty-First-Century Essays by Women, published by the University of Georgia Press (with teachers’ guide here), and has been the editor of the journal Fourth Genre: Explorations in Nonfiction.

Photo by Mike McKniff