by Leah Vahjen
(Winner, Carson McCullers Literary Awards, honorable mention, Poetry)

Time and again I traversed the northeastern

state borders, sicker with each passing blur

of steep lawns and reservoirs,

to arrive at your powdered doughnut

driveway, stuffed

with jelly cars oozing

my family into the warm belly

of Valhalla.


A family of nine grew up in this hive.

Queen Pauline’s vibrato buzzes about long,

glass honeycombs filled with

marshmallows and Nana-exclusive treats

as she greets Theresa, her blue-eyed surprise.


I am Alice, searching for Cousin Tara

under a canopy of lace, hiding behind the trunks

of trees with human knees, breathing deep

the spores of mothballs. Growing, shrinking.

WhO R U? Eat me. Drink me.

How did you get so pretty? I’m afraid

I still can’t explain myself, Uncle Timmy.


The sliding door suckers open to a sun

porch whose floor of Peter Pan green

synthetic grass is never ending, crunching

like grains of sand from a broken hour glass

beneath our feet. Our uncles tell adult-jokes,

whipping between their nose the same smoke

that choked King Robert to death.


The cuckoo clock mocks its unyielding

reminder: another whole hour, gone. Too late,

I scramble inside, stockings sliding on soft,

slick linoleum. “I didn’t see the bird,”

I coo. Someone I love simply spins back the hand

and makes it happen again.