You come back
with your hair a knot to your waist,
wild as a nest of vines, your nails
brown and hard, your eyes
like black wounds slashed through your face.
Mother washes you, happy tears
salting the water. Father helps you
into my newest clothes. You growl
at the constraint of the collar.
At dinner, you crouch in your chair,
both heels on the seat while you sniff
at the plates. Our parents laugh,
tolerant and dewy-eyed. Your teeth
are sharper. Narrower.
No one notices but me.
Your bed has waited for you, ever-empty,
in the corner of our room, its sheets
freshened each week of these four years,
its pillows snowy and untouched.
Mother snuffs the candle, tucks you
under the covers, turns back twice
to be sure you aren’t some dream.
Then we are alone in the dark.
We don’t speak. The house is asleep.
I roll over to face your bed, and catch
the glimmer of your eyes, deep yellow,
casting back the beams of the moon.
I learn what I already knew.
You are not my brother.
You are something else.
Jacqueline West is the author of the New York Times-bestselling middle grade series The Books of Elsewhere, the Schneider Family Honor Book The Collectors, and several other middle grade and young adult novels. Her poetry has appeared in journals including Mythic Delirium, Strange Horizons, Goblin Fruit, Liminality, and Star*Line, has been nominated twice for both the Rhysling Award and the Pushcart Prize, and received a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Prize. Her first full-length poetry collection, Candle and Pins: Poems on Superstitions, was published by Alban Lake in 2018. Jacqueline lives with her family in Red Wing, Minnesota. (www.jacquelinewest.com)
Author’s Comments/Backstory: “This piece was inspired in part by the story of “le sauvage de l’Aveyron,” a feral child found living in the woods of France 1797. Instead of being taken in by doctors or charitable strangers, like the real Victor of Aveyron, I wanted to imagine what might happen if he returned to his own home and family–and how that return might look through the eyes of a younger sibling. And, of course, I wanted to play a little bit with the legends of children being raised by wild animals, but to hint that the animals in this case might not be ordinary ones.”
Editor’s Notes: Image credit: a wolf’s eye (Mrs_D /zedge.net wallpaper)