Janet McAdams



Twin sleep-sleeping in the body,
sullen at never waking. Oh child
beyond toes and fingers,
eyes listing to port and starboard
so small when a mother
bled you to water in the doctor’s
makeshift office. Or never bled:
you left lodged in the body

of the twinless twin. The months
she gobbled you cell by cell,
but never quite finished.
In your sister’s body the tiny useless
extra womb, a third eye covered
with skin or bone, a clot of yellow fat.
One lash sprouting mid-forehead,
plucked like an ordinary stray hair.

A crust of baby teeth beneath the teeth
that bite into the nightly ear of corn.
Voice curled in the left ear like a snail.
Rim of ear a shadow beneath first neckskin,
then shoulderskin, caught beneath the ribs
the way one eye of a  flounder
will travel the long flat country of fish
lost deep and blind in the body a lifetime.


A gold crown lifted and left in the forest.

A black dog with a secret.                                                              

Reeds braided into a basket filled with tobacco leaves. Like
postcards from a voyage to the New World.

Hard water clogging tap, drain, the shower where you will never get clean.

The tobacco leaves lie down like a carpet.

In the jungle’s green yellow: animals cackle and hoot, stealing the girl child.

She learns to tear meat with her sharp baby teeth.


The Daughter of No One
In the left-hand doorway
touches a finger to her lips
in warning.

Her face is a dried apple of sorrow.
Not the apples the terror trees
tossed at us, Scarecrow.

Here is a box of parts for the asking:
wooden whistle,
heart that looks like velvet
but is red fur, matted, a smell of flesh rising.


If you want this story, you must bargain me down.



the way

a suitcase, stored for months,
will shift and sigh without warning



Will shift and sigh over the hard bargain
the delicate Ah--

Half a cough, an ahem of pleasure.
Spelled out like an alphabet

A calendar in x’s and y’s.

Here are the rules for dreaming:
a schedule for the day after sleeping.


Clap of thunder, yellow stream of
dust, rough oval of sweat

on a man’s gray shirt .
Yellow rose on the bank.

on the bank of the creek thick with blood.
Hide, carcass,

dragged out the cellar door.
I had flesh beneath my fingernails. I had

sinew caught between my teeth.


Flat, the world pressed out of breath. Breathing:

O, sigh me back to sorrow
I am so sick of tomorrow.

Bring me a feather, a leaf, a bowl
filled with jelly.

Whistle, purse, castigate, loll. O, my helpless one,
your life, your silly life. I am the milly-

molly of your strongest desire, your
Personal Pinnochio.


Red ribbon on a girl’s tender neck.

Not cloth, but blood. O let
the head not topple, let

the red be anything but.
Seven golden curls: give one to each brother.

Come under  
the gathering -- I am sick

of my bag of tricks--  
clouds.  Soft as velvet

the shrinking map of discovery
where white horses

of waves
ride the sea down to sand.


* * *

Janet McAdams' collection of poetry, The Island of Lost Luggage, won an American Book Award in 2001. Her poems have appeared in Salt, TriQuarterly, the Kenyon Review, and other journals. She grew up in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and is a member of the Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers.