memoir in bone & ink | Kristy Bowen

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memoir in

one & ink & & ink bone bone & ink kristy bowen



memoir in bone & ink

Kristy Bowen


dancing girl press & studio, 2022


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The author was born in a rainstorm. The clouds thick and winged over the midwest. The author couldn't sleep, at first, for all the thunder. But under the author, the forest writhed in moss and peat. Tethered itself to the author like a ship. At night, she'd sail it through the trees. The author, at first, had no mother, no father, only the thin lip of daylight at the horizon. Only a slip of wind to guide her. She'd stack the broken limbs and build a fire and the ghosts would gather. The author would rest, but only in the heart of an immense, hollowed out oak where she'd play house with the dark and marry it again and again. Would carry its children up and down the ladder each morning. Would hush them to sleep, each night.


As a child, the author drew her name in the dirt and swallowed fat black beetles for luck. Her mother would tuck her into bed with lace hankies she'd fold into exquisite peacocks. When the author was asked about rain, the author pulled out her peacocks and set them one next to another, crumpled from her pocket. Sometimes, nothing but a threadbare slip of cloth she'd rip with her tiny hands. A dip in air pressure that set her legs aching. It was hard not to break the windows out whenever the house would swell with water, but the author was resolute. The peacocks would take on too much water to live. She'd push them one by one over the edge of the table and into the river that rose around her.


The author looked like her mother, but only when it was raining. Only when she was angry did the woman surface and bob beneath the skin. The grandmothers who wouldn't stay down, but instead played cards and tossed beer cans from windows to a little red house. Would throw themselves from willow trees if given a chance. Curse the mice who littered the traps with their small, matted bodies. The author noted these things with a pencil in a book, but by then the mother took to breaking everything she touched. To snapping each mouse's slender neck and throwing it in the trash. The author would cry and write poems about their mangled bones, their tiny teeth.


One day, the author found a dirty book. Dog-eared black and white lovers rubbed their bodies together in grainy photos. The author could not see their souls, there among the flesh and fur of their bodies. The angle of their limbs impossible. In the bath, her own body pudgy and pudding-fed, full of venom. The author laid out the pages, freed of their binding, in the basement. Tried to chart the course of their desires in licorice whips and pencil shavings. The author once loved a man who wrote her only dirty letters but couldn't keep her. Those years, she could only burst bright and starlit against her own fingers in the bed. The author closed her eyes and thought of monochrome tangles of hair and skin and open mouths. Ghosts moving blank-faced on the page.


The author grew up in the midwest. Festered beneath sunlight like a blister. Cartwheeled through summers thigh-high with lake grass. Couldn't keep her fingers out of her mouth, the butterflies out of her hair. The author built a church out books and hid inside it for years. Fumbled with light switches and lawn ornaments, and still, the holes in her body slacked and grew larger til she contained so much. BBQ grills and record albums, tackleboxes and bottles of pills. The author would crack open every so often and out would fly a river of fish the size of her palm. The author would go slack with all that wanting, would fold and list in the wind.


The author picks a word out of a hat and swallows it. Plucks feathers from her soup, and still the author cannot conjure rabbit nor dove. But she loved it when the magician placed his hand on her shoulders and cut out her tongue. Spun her beneath disco lights and tinsel stars. Ate out her heart with a knife and a fork, but returned her, virginal, to her bed. The author tried to put a city between each mattress that sagged and leaked in every house. Tried to make the dolls real, down to their tidy shoes and socks. She locked them in the basement to stop their bleeding, but they cried all night beneath the moon. How soon they pursued with pens and papercuts, quick galloped at her heels.


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The author drops a dime in the ocean and it comes back as silence. Comes back as echo and madness in the molars. Comes back as saints and sexed-up string quartets on sinking ships. Sometimes, the author got lost in hotels, looking for the street and soaked in prosecco. Would dream of forgotten stairwells and dumbwaiters filled with limbs. She'd lower them down, but they always came back up. Porn stars and pretty, pin curled secretaries. But it's all flesh when stripped down. Hunk of breast, slice of thigh. She couldn't tell one from the other, spinning through hallways with so many doors. Her own body, a rack of bones and bees in the sternum where the heart should be. Her own body, its heavy bag of blood.


Like all authors, the author longs for bluebells stretching along empty roads. A cottage in the forest that is more like a forest inside a cottage, all wood rot and rabbits. A racket of crows. The author beds down with the strangest men. Places their hands over her heart and eyes. Still nothing sticks in the rafters, the house hollowed and swept of all traces of her by morning. Hairbrushes, bobby pins, a plastic ring shaped like a spider. The author's clothes kept slipping off the hangers, stolen by raccoons. The dishes in the cupboards, all the spoons, vanishing at dawn. Eyelash. Shin bone. Leaky pen.


The author's bones are made of metal and television static. Of panic and sparks. Break them, and they splinter into a hundred broken arcs of light pricking the night sky. The author couldn't see the stars this deep in the city, Couldn't remember which scars came from where or who. Could only carve a small recess in the dark and inhabit there for years. The author's body was made of flesh that curved and swallowed the bones until no trace was left but a dip of collarbone, a slice of wrist. Twisted metacarpals and fingers. They moved across the keyboard and fashioned poems from radio signals, embedded deep in the fillings of her teeth.


The author was born a siren and could sing when the wind was right. Could find her way along the tidepools and shallows to the men tossed, bloody, from their ships. Could wrap her hips in thistle and seaweed. Moan with the best of them while the ships groaned in their joists and broke apart on the rocks. The author was born a pirate queen, quick-footed and prone to throwing herself off the plank and into the sea. The author was born a single gull on the horizon. Or the storm that swallowed the sun. The author was convinced that what was land was only sand and mirage. Or worse, that the author had dreamed it all up. the tiny sticks of fire, the glistening waves. The escape boat she folded herself into every night under the low wide moon.


The author is made of light and sugar. Push through the center of her body and you'll find nothing but cotton candy. Toothache and tumbling pink. The author is made of chapstick tubes and misplaced barrettes. Diet soda and tiny unicorns made out of glass. Shake her, and they break. Take her by the neck and fold her like a dress. The author held together for years until she ate out her middle, cut-tongued, screamed through ice cream shops and movie theatres. The author couldn’t get enough until it was all too much. That bright, sweet fizz.


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The author opens her mouth and the bees swarm out. Warms up her tea and spills it across the page. Somewhere, in the leaves, lies the lie. The tie that tethers the word to the thing. In the beginning, the author told the truth, spit-shined like a dime. But it was hard to find the silver, glowing in the underbrush. To find the moonlight in the river. The quivering of branches. To catch the ghost that slipped through the forest. It was all untruths and innuendoes. The author and her endings. So splendid the bees would not come back for days to the hive. Would thrive in the night that ate them one by one.


The author wrote a book and put the stars inside it. Put a fistful of dandelions stuck between the pages. Wandered for days, sleepy, drunk on pollen. The author wanted to love the book, but the book would tremble every time she touched it. Every time she entered the room, the book tumbled from the shelf. The author knelt in the kitchen and tried to coax the book out from under the oven. Tried to love the things that made it broken. Its spokes and hollows. How she'd bleed for the book, but the book needed its own light candling in the cradle. Its own small glow beneath the covers.


The author broke open a stone and found a world inside it. Broke open a bone and counted the years back like a tree. Here, the city that swallowed her. Here, the fallow ground she buried herself in each night. Before long, the author wrapped her body in feathers and set fire to the drapes. The author needed whiskey, so she threw herself into the black, the back of bars and men who wrote their phone numbers on the inside of her arm. The author could birth them over and over again for the sake of art, but it didn't expel them from her lungs. How love could make her cough and choke and feverish for days.


The author places a blindfold over her eyes and her body in an enormous circle. Flirts with broken taillights and right angles. Throws pages into the river. Still, she shivers under streetlamps, gaslit and ghost prone. Touch her, and she leaves a small black mark on the underside of your wrist. Large enough to bite. What a fight when the author went down and down into the tunnel and came out bearing a single string with which to hang you. A single page smooth and white as the back of a dead woman's hand. The author could crack her bones each night and assemble anew every morning, but nothing went back together as sound as it began.


The author digs deeper. Begins to creep along the baseboards and shake out every rug. The author wanted everything, then nothing, so close was she to the tug of gravity that tilted each tipped car off the edge of the bridge. So close to godlike things, they singed her fingers as she typed. The author broke her ribs on things she couldn't move with the weight of her thrust. The dust kicked up every time she opened a drawer or a window. And there it was, the beginning of the string that wound through rooms and rooms of the house she constructed out of fear and timber, its nests of ribbon and hair.


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The author ate her way through winter. Stuffed chocolate bars and endless tea sandwiches down her throat and still the glint of hunger in her body. The drift of anger toward her shores The author broke her hip bones on too many spokes to count. Her wrists, trying to unknot herself from dreams where she straddled an enormous globe. Faking it against backwater bars and busted bannisters. Fleshy and fermenting in the ground where the world planted her deep. Roots withering, but o’ the flowers that bloomed against the porch, then glowed white in the moon. O’ the seeds she scattered, wet and fertile in the rows.


The author wanted a house to burn down. A fury to pray to. A gray skied inferno. All of her furniture cast to the flames. The author wanted an apocalypse, assembled stick by stick, then toppled. A rope she could light as a fuse. The author could have saved any of the horses, but she chose this one with the broken leg, the body smudged around the edges. Over the ridge, then men carried torches and hunted for her for weeks. The author hid herself like a doll in the smallest box til they stopped looking. The box she made a house and then unmade with the hands she kept sticking in the flames and licking clean.


The author could have been a scientist. A sea witch. The sand between two rocks. The author could have been a bland waitress in a seaside diner, a fine piece of china. The roll of an engine and the crush of a wave. The author went looking for an occupation and found only tripwire and dust. Found tiny crustaceans living at the bottom of the skeleton. Found knots in her ropes. Hope like a ship that bobbed and wove on the ocean she longed to examine and measure for its vastness. She would hold her head below the sea, and later, empty her ears of it. It too was endless and filled with dangerous things like the body, all anchors and glass. All glisten and roar.


Where the author went, the words went. Clanging along like bells and chains. Trailing through mud puddles and birthday parties, rusting out from the inside. The author tried to hide them beneath her skirts. Tried to put the words back in the mouth of the mother, the father with his books, but still the words jangled like keys. On the streets, she'd lay them out like a watch seller on her coat. Place them in the hands of strangers. They'd find their way back, banging at the windows while she tried to sleep. Frenzying in the kitchen. The author locked the vault and sill they come daily with their racket and calamity. So loud she'd try to quiet them, but they bang against the bedsprings all night.


The author breaks bones to make new configurations. Takes each fragment and slivers her way to being. Eve started as a rib, but her, as a shinbone, wrist bone, daughter of no one. Ankle bone, finger bone, daughter of stone. When the rain came, the author cowered beneath the porch. Sought out the liquid that crept along each blade of grass. Faded her days til they stretched like sheets on a bed. Fed on words and ink and paper pulp. Grew fat on all that racket. The author would cut off a finger or a toe and regenerate another girl with a fake name and undamaged body. But she could harbor thousands beneath the leaves constructed from books. Dry beneath the pages we created from bone.


The author's inheritance was a nervous flutter. An affinity for butter and sweets. A need for absolute silence in the room and the doomscroll of endless disasters. The author bought her way out of the city she was born in, fought tooth and nail and lock of hair. Ingested every princess potion in the cabinet, but still the shoes blister and peel. On the screen, the men abduct the women willingly into sailboats and helicopters and Yves St Laurent dresses. They emerge immaculate from baths scented like money and lavender. Honey in their voices, the way they hold their coffee til it goes cold. The neat fold of sweaters in drawers. The author's inheritance was a patch of weeds in a meadow surrounded by smokestacks and rusted-out cars. The authors inheritance was worry, which slipped into her bed each night like a cat beneath the covers.


The author tries to write other things than poems. Stories and ad copy, dirty jokes and greeting card verse, but the poetry sticks in the wheels and grinds the gears to nothing. All of it was wanting, the words, the song, some distant glimmer on the horizon. For how soon the palace became its own kind of cage, the octaves pitching with every wing that beat at the bars. Its own kind of apocalypse, where the dead mumble through dinner because they have no lower jaw to form words. Where the ghosts bang the kitchen pots all night but are still hungry in the morning. The author collected them and tucked them into bed each night, but where do they go when the castle doors are open? What use for padlocks and handcuffs when we were staying all along?




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