Jessica Cuello

A Calling

First line my leg of rose – lifted, pale, a shadow where the muscle ends. Behind the curtain, I was human, now I’m dance, artificial light, contained on stage. Imperious enough – hierarchical, competitive; childless, I’d be smoking while my gaunt lover forgets to call. It’s all in the head now. The leap, turn, tulle in the tight, mirrored dressing room. I never listened, was born in the wrong town. See the dancer’s neck, the hair pulled away, the schoolgirl bags in a pile near the mirror. See the row, the repetition, the desire to move. The roar of a girl, deep as a man’s –

The Goosegirl

There was a moment on the hill; careless, side-saddle, my skirt a cascade on the horse’s hide. Falada was his name. We talked about the view. Lazily, we moved up paths. I took for granted a kingdom behind, and one ahead. I would say look at the color on that branch. He would say it reminds me of… All that time, a servant on a silent horse traveled with us. I’m unsure when I lost the handkerchief. Or even where I stuck it: in my breast? Tucked in my belt? Stained with my mother’s blood, my origin creased in her hand. There was a second…or was it several? after I asked for water. The maidservant refused: Get it yourself. I said nothing, stood in the muddy bank, sipped from the water like a horse. Maybe then the handkerchief slipped downstream—caught on a branch. I didn’t see— When she said, Remove your dress, I did that too. My name lifted with it. None of us are fully dead. The headless carcass of the horse is wrinkled velvet ribbons, darkened. Set with flies. His voice runs without it: Dear Queen, is that really you? The gooseboy’s eyes widen, his fingers investigate my cap. For the maid, life opens. My braid, wound tightly, forgets its source. She nails the horsehead to the wall. He greets me while I lead the geese: Oh, if your mother knew, her heart would break in two. None of us are fully named. Quartered, voices drawn. The strands of hair the gooseboy pulls— gold—an element outside its element. I call the wind to send him off; he knows I don’t belong. I would forget, sink off. My maid wants to be someone else. The bridegroom can’t discern a thing, dazzled by the wedding dress. The old father asks for my story, Go inside the stove and tell it there. I crawl into the metallic womb, unburden who I am.

Landlady

I stand her in the beauty parlor kneel to cut 6 inches from the Easter dress her mother made – too long for a little girl. If her eyes said anything, they reflected the glass bottles in a row across the vanity. Her mother rents one floor of my corner property. I count how late she stays away. Her visitors. I cut her child’s clothes. The girl sees me like a queen since I made-up her doll with blush. This girl is awed by my surfaces – painted dogs, the brass hinges on the enameled box, the demi-turn of the glass ballerina – She ruins her mother’s chance of getting back her rent deposit by coloring in orange the only square of floor the carpet does not reach.

Jessica Cuello is a graduate of Barnard College and teaches French in Central New York. Recent poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Copper Nickel, The Dos Passos Review, Blood Lotus, Harpur Palate, Muse & Stone, Literary Mama, and the anthology, Zeus Seduces the Wicked Stepmother in the Saloon of the Gingerbread House.