Is one of the symptoms remembering the ghosts
one has seen? I am not going to sign my name
to this postcard because who knows whose eyes
will see it besides yours and you should know
who is in Mogadishu right now and who is not.
The passwords to my accounts are hidden
somewhere in the following true story.
When I was fourteen, my father promised
me to a man who lived in the forest.
I never went to his cabin; he always came
to mine. When he asked me why I never came
I said I did not know the way and so
he tied a rope to all the trees and asked my father
to see that I followed it. Sometimes we put ourselves
in danger just to live and tell about it.
And sometimes we put ourselves in danger
because our fathers betroth us to murderers.
When I finally found the house no one was home
so I hid and I waited. Blood as red as apples,
apples as red as blood, skin as white as snow,
snow as red as blood: no one has seen what I
have. My betrothed came home with some men
and a girl and I still have her finger to prove it.
(Is one of the symptoms a constant dull ache?
Don’t answer that; I don’t have an address.)
I ran out of his house when he fell asleep
and I kept her finger under my pillow and I did
not tell what I had seen. Sometimes we
are so close to running, but we do not;
we’d rather sleep on a piece of a body
than steal a boat in the middle of a moonless
night and sail to the northern country where
the people assume you’ve done no wrong,
but if you have done wrong, they forgive you,
always, and maybe one of them forgives you more
than the others, and he takes you on long walks
in shady arbors and you want to tell him how
much you like his sweater, but ever since
the forest you’ve been mute, so you write
how much you like his sweater with a stick
in the ground and he gives it to you
off his back. Then you start to write all
that’s ever happened to you, but
the best parts disappear into the grass
and he doesn’t give you anything else, but
he does say that maybe you should run away
and you think he means he will come with,
but when the stars are all out
and he’s still not at the pier to meet you, you sail
from that barren land without him
and send letters to show you forgive him
for staying. Is one of the symptoms a feeling
like you’ve been here before? I have not
been to a place yet that was not somehow familiar.
This is the end. The sun is just coming up
over the sea. In the desert they dream of water
and snow-capped volcanoes. I dream of amnesia.


Leigh Stein’s poetry collection Dispatch from the Future was selected for Publishers Weekly’s “Best Summer Books of 2012,” as well as the Rumpus Poetry Book Club. She is also the author of the novel The Fallback Plan, and her third book, a memoir called Land of Enchantment, is forthcoming from Blue Rider Press in 2016. She co-directs the literary nonprofit Out of the Binders. Follow her @rhymeswithbee

EPISTOLAPHOBIA” originally appeared in BOMB on July 12, 2012.