The Sing Song Arch of Spine

By Kelly Gray

You hear choking and the bed of wood beating against wall. This is how the epilepsy first tells you what it sounds like in your daughter’s body. You listen to its song as you run in, past the memory of that one time you dropped her infant body in ice river. Your husband, now ex-husband, had told you not to cross. But the snow was so pretty on the other side. You were a cat with a cub in your mouth. Careful on rock. Human when you fell in. Watching her dip under, her green eyes so clear in the cut of ice water. Back to cat as the water pulled you down, you lifted her to the Gods as you leapt, running up the mountain till she was warm in your arms, your tears filling her open mouth. 

Now, it’s her eyes that are open, lids peeled back, and you are alone with her. She is only body electrified. You are only: step one, step two, step three. You see that she’s breathing as she turns the prettiest pale blue, her lips antique doll. 

You want all the moons to smile down upon her. You cut them from gold tissue paper, thread them above the bed. At night, you have a flashlight you shine in her face. You look up her nose, check for her spirit trying to sneak out. 

The first time it happened, you thought she was dead, which made you imagine the next morning without her. You swallowed that world and screamed it back to her face. Her eyes painted stiff in sockets. Frozen green lakes, the drool pouring from her lips, open. You scream directly into her mouth. Her tongue is snowmelt, sliding down the side of her face. 

The second time it happens, you yell. You pick her up to let her collapse. You cover her on the floor with blankets, and the sirens rouse the forest, the owls abandon perch. You haven’t said the word yet, even though you know how it sounds between your lips. 

Your dad remembers the BBQs in the Central Valley, the way pork blood would stream down the gutters. To you, it was only a book about doctors. A theory till now conjured in another land. You call the paramedics, and you are only: step one, step two, step three. When they surround her, you think of backing up. Instead, you crawl on the ground between their legs and muddied boots to reach her hand. Their manhood is uniformed and kind. Your motherhood is the most precise, the most methodical, the most. You are made of mountains. You loom from the floor above her. 

Epilepsy. The sing song arch of spine. 

Your therapist told you that you are a hellwalker. You walk with your hands up, palms on the underside of earth. Roots in your hair, insects crawling down your arms. 

You say: Let me banish all other hellwalkers, as this is my most important journey. I will keep her above my head, out of water. I will suck the snow from her mouth. I tell her, you can hate this if you want to. I tell her, for some people, this is a gift. I tell her, the phlebotomist was beautiful, and she says she wants her blood taken by him again and again and again. I fill all the bowls at home with winter tangerines. There is a space between all the cleaning and hanging of moons where my eyes get caught in a wretch, but I walk backwards out of it, cover her with blankets and sharpen my words. I hang a net above our bed. I am a spirit catcher, an anxiety vacuumer, I can start a fire in the wind. I check the bottom of her feet for backdoors. I drop two eggs into boiling water and add cheap apocalypse noodles, spoon the embryo in my mouth. Let the hot yellow fill me. Melt the ice out of the river. I think nothing scares me anymore, not even the swallowing of bird birth, speckled blood shell. Not even this.

About the author

Kelly Gray’s (she/her) writing has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Pretty Owl Poetry, River Teeth, Lunch Ticket, Bracken Magazine, CULTURAL WEEKLY and many other swoon worthy publications. She's been nominated for both a Pushcart Prize by Atticus Review and Best of the Net by the Account Magazine, and her book of poetry, 'Instructions for an Animal Body,' is forthcoming from Moon Tide Press. You can read more of her work at and follow her at @_west_of_west.

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