By E. Veronica Noechel

Found: One Shadow

(Call With Detailed Description for Return)

Sometimes I feel so old, I could crackle
like dirty paint. I never believed in fairy tales
till I lost my hand to a crocodile. Tick tock, tick tock.
We all turn to pirates eventually. Looting for time
while listening for the sound of our own death approaching.

When did the needle slip the axis, turning the protracted
circles into cobwebs? I used to be impulsively stupid, worried
I’d miss out on things. Now I’m compulsively stupid,
worried things won’t miss me.

So I stare at the dusty topography
of my popcorn ceiling and wonder, why did Pan skip
me? He turned from Peter to Satyr so quickly I missed his
tap tap at my window. Or, I think, maybe I didn’t miss it
at all. Even if I’d listened harder, even though I can hear
the steady squeal of electric toothbrush chargers. Even though the wails
of transparent skinned mouse pups crying for their mothers
follow me through the field where I walk my dog. Even if
I could hear the sound of firefly lights and the conversations
of wood nymphs, I wouldn’t have heard the tapping
of fingertips on my windowpane
because they were never there to hear.

I wasn’t Wendy. I was just another lost girl
who didn’t make the story. Only the anxious,
detail memorizing, viciously clean-nailed obsessive
compulsive kid who maybe never was one. Just another
lost girl hiding behind her lunchbox, disguised
in a plaid jumper—the way lost boys wore
bunting skins to live as mortals among the forest
spirits, sharp toothed, dark, and impossibly free.

How could I fool the forest when I couldn’t
fool a six year old? I was as anxious
and subtle as a bundle of shivering twigs
trying to pass as a china doll, bent at its rag-stuffed waist
to fit into the bright plastic injection molded
desk chairs, to be pressed into tight rows of children
just a foot apart on either side, always in
my peripheral vision. Children can smell out a fake
faster than hounds can tear a fox fur to follicles,

and when childhood skips an ordinary
girl, you’ve got nothing to offer Pan,
or the faeries who promised to come, silent
in the star sparkled night to lure away the changeling
they surely left behind, lost among mortals.

Forever counting. Forever repeating. Forever hearing
my own breath grinding on like a saw in the woods.
Forever asking, forever cleaning and washing the strange human
appendages prone to touching, grabbing, flailing,
grasping for the glass glittered newspaper crown of
precocious uniquity, or at least please before you go
leave me a scrap, a stray sparkling feather.
Leave me the knowledge that there’s someplace
clean and calm where no one has to remember
every moment word-for-word to play
on endless loop once the night goes quiet.

In the deepest reaches of night, I hold your shadow
against my window, hoping this hollow absence
can draw you. I don’t want anything for it.
Not buttons to count or kisses to worry over.
Fly close. I’m rendered harmless.
Between soaping and minding the catalog
of swish chops of the ceiling fan overhead,
I’ve got no fight left. My remaining hand aches
from ticking off numbers and thousands
and thousands of trictillomania twists.

Just let me know you could have taken me
but didn’t. I need to know there’s somewhere
where the water doesn’t have to burn
your hands, and germs are easy to kill.
A place where a kid can sit still and hear nothing
repeating, repeating, repeating…repeating.