Audio: Read by the author.
My mother is a child again, kneeling
on the floor in a circle with her siblings
while my nana hits them with a strap
until they confess to the holes in the wall
that no one made. Until her sister
confesses I did it to spare them all
and my nana is a girl again,
waiting for her brother to come home.
But he never does. She is sent away
to boarding school. Speak of the devil.
She is a teenager again. Her mother
will not see her. And she is alone
with her baby and she is scared.
The blue devil won’t take her.
To hear my nana tell it, she has never
let the devil in. She keeps on the sunny side,
always on the sunny side. She has always
been different. The village next to her girlhood
village is burnt—burnt bodies in the barn,
burnt bodies in the church. Her cousin’s village:
Oradour-sur-Glane. That was terrorism,
she says. I know evil. She looks around.
She finds it here. The devil in disguise.
She finds it in us and writes letters
of our wrongs. On and on and on
and on. I love her and how do we
explain her? By the boarding school
napkin sewn with her number? By
her brother’s train, bombed by Nazis?
By the empty town, by the girl again.
Jessica Cuello is the author of Pricking (Tiger Bark) and Hunt (The Word Works).
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.