Parable of the Unclean Spirit
You can’t remember what they did to you. Your loneliness isn’t welcome here, you know, but still you walk the dream-lit village, looking for someone gentle enough. There must be an animal trapped under your shirt, you think, because little claws scratch against your chest and you throb there, but you're afraid to look because looking means remembering. You ask a man passing on the road to lift your shirt and check and he retches at what he sees, says the flesh there overflows, as if grinding its own meat, that strips of skin curl away from the wound like rot mushrooms growing on a tree, and he can't help you, you make him sick, he says, he has to go now, so you wander some more until you reach the gate, which is the end of who you could have been, the end of the dream of your body made full with starmilk, propelled by a heart of sea anemone. You’ll be hungry forever if you stay here, trying to hide your secret mouth from all this light. Before you can cross the gate into that dark valley, you must look at yourself. You can think of other words for red: crimson, cherry, scarlet. But there's no other name for blood, no name for a shame like this, its hiss of pain when you press your finger to it, the sweet stain it leaves on your fingertip. You just have to taste it.
Copyright © 2021 by Sara Eliza Johnson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 6, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.
“This is a dream poem. I don't write many poems about my actual dreams, but the minute I woke from this one, I knew I had to write a poem for it. At its base emotional level, the poem is about traumatic memory. Sometimes wounds don't heal, and acceptance of that can be a kind of healing in itself—but it will be the hardest thing you ever do.”
—Sara Eliza Johnson