Elizabeth J. Colen

Rinse and Oxidation

I heard a sto­ry once about a man who can only tell his wife by her den­tist. He sched­ules the appoint­ment every year; she dri­ves the car. White coat checks incisors and decides it’s her, the right wife; they go on for anoth­er year, tucked into a ranch-style with no hors­es, no cow­boy any­thing, just hand­fuls of brief stairs and long spans of shag carpet.

As a child, head tipped back, I stared at the alpha­bet or whale on the ceil­ing, depend­ing on the chair. Red let­ters mock­ing the cop­per taste in my mouth. And for a while my mouth belonged to some­one else.

There was machin­ery and I was lost to its buzzing and mint smell. I was lost to the courtship of gloved fin­ger­nails snaking towards the back of my throat.

Questions with no answers.

Gloved fist shak­ing in front of her face.

When I was five, moth­er mon­ster stopped hold­ing my hand. She was like this in every­thing. At eight, church became choice and we nev­er heard bells again, became agents of the dev­il. What the doc­tor said was good for us was nev­er ques­tioned. The tumors grew and we around them, lick­ing at dust on grandmother’s Bible and lis­ten­ing to the ache of errs our mouths had become.


Elizabeth J. Colen’s work has recent­ly appeared in The Normal School, Exquisite Corpse, RHINO, and oth­er venues. She is poet­ry edi­tor of Thumbnail Magazine, and the author of prose poet­ry col­lec­tion Money for Sunsets (Steel Toe Books, 2010) and forth­com­ing fic­tion chap­book Dear Mother Monster, Dear Daughter Mistake (Rose Metal Press, 2011).