Girls with Porcelain Hands
The shelves held a hundred dolls,
and each waved a paper fan
with the dust of three generations.
In the colors of fifty nations
they spent the seasons fading
as the sun passed through the house.
My sister—last to tend them—let
mice search their dresses, the hemp,
the tulle, the cotton-wool bodies.
I held them, damp with excrement,
in my arms, mask tight on my face, before
shoveling them into 44 gallon bags.
Outside my mother stoked a fire
to burn away a hundred dolls,
the stench smoldering in the air.
They left behind black faces, toeless feet,
and porcelain hands to pull from the pit.
When the fire cooled, I shook their infant fingers.
If I write his story:
The 911 operator asks me the riddle of the sphinx; I recite my address and imagine lights strobing across mist-blue pyramids—Appalachia in twilight. How many ways can you slice history, watch its arteries spill reds in the bathtub? My father dies this way. His urned ashes already tickle my nose. I have no imagination but foresight.
The sphinx visits my bathroom, stretches her stiff, stony legs, and looks upon my father. She spits yellow bile into the wastebasket filled with strawberry caps, cherry pits, and razor blades. She vomits the Oedipal answer, “man, man, man.”
Persistent Vegetative State
The faucet in your apartment coughs
up dust and the shower refuses
to wash your mourning,
so you rummage
under days of dirty clothes
for your week-old meditation
on water towers. You wonder
what rests inside those reservoirs.
How can you know
they hold anything
if you can’t see it? In the fog
of recent mornings, you sit
and stare across the field
to the tower—
You wish for its water
to wave, to lap or splash,
to give some sign
it still stands—a rich well—
the same as your father—locked
bedside—wishes for his wife
to wake, to wave, to laugh or speak,
to give sign she stands—a working well.
To write this poem, I hold the pen like a cleaning
rag—writing, lightly buffing away her finger prints.
I’ve cleaned like this for weeks: all of her clothes,
each room, dishes and the rings left raised on tables.
None of these messes scar, all wipe away.
Now, months have passed. I have reached the stained
walls, the touched-smooth doorknobs, light switches
and remote controls. I wonder about her
fingers, how long their oil will linger.
Just down the road the Distillery has crumbled,
and construction workers gather bricks at the same rate
I dust and buff—the hesitation to erase memories,
universal. But when I finally finish—every corner of her life
wiped down—I’ll fold the rag and keep it my dresser drawer,
a million memories wrapped like gifts in the fabric.
Kayla Rae Candrilli received a Bachelors and Masters in Creative Writing from Penn State University and is a current MFA candidate at the University of Alabama. Candrilli was awarded first place in Vela Magazine's non-fiction contest and is published or forthcoming in The Chattahoochee Review, Puerto del Sol, Dogwood, Pacifica Literary, and others. You can read more of their work here and here.