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Ashley Mares


Because somewhere deep
into the forest, the huntsmen

prays. His knife carries
moonlight and it drips

like blood onto the
snow. Blood only reddens

when it's gazed upon
by the dead. This is the sound

of a long inhale: the feel of life
unfurled in my palm. How

the names of the dead
are written not in blood

but in owl feathers: sprawled
out like ghost fingers. With

moonlight whispering to
scattered animal bones: when

you were mine,
I told you everything.


Even after disturbing
the secrets of

the dead. When they
spoke, I collected

their discarded deer
antlers like

wishbones. Clung
to them until my

cheeks flushed. Opened
my ribcage

like an armoire
made of tree

branches. Leave
nothing behind.
The only

thing left of what
was conjured: the

white feathers
stuck to my skin. Because

the forest wears my name
like a melody: I drift

off and away
between the rhythm.


Because their skin smells faintly
of my mother’s perfume.

Because I prayed that I might be able to
unstitch their lips: hear them say don’t wake up.

Because their voices lean on
a young girl’s bones and
wait for something to break.

Because a fragrance unfurled
into comfort is another word for home.

Because their skin is thick like
the blood of the innocent child traveling
through the snow.

Because I must reach for what
fits in my bones: hold it in my palm
like lavender leaves
until I’m sleeping beside the
ravens in tree branches.


Being another word for promise.
How fear was once a fawn
curled in the grass.
How I was once
a child who thought
the only way
of keeping warm
was burying myself
in innocence and
letting my body be
another word for dream.
And I dreamt of how
someone once told me
in this light your body
looks broken.
And I held the word
in my mouth for days
to feel its weight.
How words are often
confused with smoke
stuck between your teeth.
Maybe each piece tastes like
a place I’ve been before.
Of entering the woods
and searching for
fables that tell
a girl she is a fawn,
among other things.


Because I carry a dead butterfly
around in my pocket. How a dream
is only worth breaking
if it's colorful. Be bare
skinned. Be fluttering.
Be touching the silk wings
calcified onto skin. Being
unburied: this soft impact
of my heart seeping
into the hand I held
to my chest. This
opening: ask their bodies
to linger in their reddened glow.
Because each morning, this emptying.


Be something to burn.
Be the softer parts
of a creature’s prayer: the underbelly.
The howling at the moon: Say
rescue me, let me breathe in
darkness like air.

Be untangled from a hunter’s
knife: Say
I’m something between
a fleeting thought
and a remaining
Broken: a
burning in the lungs.
Say anything
in the language
of the dead. Don’t
be unseen: trace the jawbones
of ghosts: how their hope
seeps into the woods like dusk.
Be surrounded.
Be undone.

➥ Bio