l a u r a    k o c h m a n

from Nautilus

 

Letters to a Tenant

To the Woman in the Woods

Letter to a Tenant




































Letters to a Tenant

 

Where are the feet I left here? In a bucket at the base of the stairs, the oysters open and close their frilled mouths. Where are my wet footprints? I was told to expect tension, but a washing away? A fleet upheaval? In the shade of the rocks, under cover of our pier, at the feet of the pylons in the sea, the oysters open and close. Donít bring them in the house. I will spoil the wine for steaming, rot all the shallots for flavor, turn over the boiling pot while you cook, watch the tops of your feet bubble like a toadís back. It will be you in the bathroom, you in the bucket, you with your toes curled into salt water. I will tap their shells to coax them closed and plant them in the sand near the tide line, watch them wade away, let my feet follow into the water.


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If there really is a woman in the woods, she haunts a house on gilded chicken legs. In my dreams, I find it and it turns away, a funnel of cracked skin and old shingles. A blackened forest. A crowd of fiddleheads. The bony legs extend as if to let me stroke them, but I wait too long and they whirl away, a spinning top, helix of dirt and scabs.


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Before it burned in the sun, before I cured and striped its steps with salt, before I ate its floors and scratched its papered walls, before the storm came tearing and I let it, before my fingers dragged down the laundry lines, before my feet fell from the third floor to the first, before the wasps planted a nest in the garage and stung us all like salt, before the rotation of the hoof occurred, before I was unsound, before any paint flecked, before the nails removed themselves from the premises, before founder became inevitable, before I smelled only of night, before a wave ever came to know it, this house was yellow.

 

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To the Woman in the Woods

 

You chose dirt. You took the woods. I speak of you now as though I knew you once, or maybe I always spoke of you gone. I ate you for dinner, a wooden meal and my gut was planted. I removed everything from the house, unhinged all the shells. It was your fault—the way the wind shattered all the plaster pots, the sharp sidewalk of glass and broken siding under my feet, the playing cards scattered in the sea. Your fault. I eat dirt when I can find it, scratching at the neighborís tires in the night, digging at the distance between woods and water. My arms hang too long, and clear a path through the wind. I drag them down the road and back to the sea wall, the same segment of gravel, back to the sea wall, the same stretch of sand-dusted road, back to the sea wall, and my hands are never scraped.

 

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Letter to a Tenant

 

In the interest of full disclosure, there is a woman buried in the woods. I removed a long strand of her hair and planted it in the forest floor, and she followed. Now the woods have taken her, or she has taken the woods. Sometimes through the trees she teases me, the tail end of a chimney disappearing in a flicker, the dark smell of her fading, just the scritch-scratch of talons eating through the air. I tell myself the house is not empty, but honest—I cannot know. Iíve lost the house too many times, the chipped paint on the exterior windows and the sheen of the doorknob under my hand. Or I never touched it. All right—I never touched it. It runs away on bony legs, tucks itself white through the trees. I look in the mirror sometimes and find myself a plaster copy. Somehow it is all shrinking, shuddering under, the trees darker than a closed mouth. All right—I say this to the sand. I say this to my empty hands. These days, I feel a half shell. Sometimes I bury the woman in the woods and she pours out of my mouth. Sometimes she stinks of my salt. I find myself sniffing along the sidewalk, but Iím only following my own bright tail. I bury my feet in the sand, and the salt water takes them, and takes them again, and takes them again. I turn away from the woods, but cannot stop myself from turning, betraying my ends, and the salt knows it, and I turn again.

 

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LAURA KOCHMAN, originally from New Jersey, is currently an MFA candidate at the University of Alabama. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Bat City Review, StorySouth, Word For / Word, and Copper Nickel.


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