Two Poems by Rachel Custer


Fear will make a man
lie about how he loves you
and Sally knows just how to scare a man. (Beneath her summer clothes,
her belly swells. A song,
sudden as dark, overtakes the day.)
Mercy wells up inside her
like the flood a girl becomes
in the basement of a cruel man’s need. Fear will make a woman
dream of another country,
the motherland a woman can become.
Sally dreams vast fields of desperate eyes. Hope: a mother will never be left
alone with a dangerous dream.
Mercy: a daughter
born to cut glances from men.


Seeing Too Much is Seeing Nothing

Sally stands at the sink, training
her eyes on the following day
and missing
the girl following her around.
Sally’s saving all her faith for silences, these days. Summer
mornings in Indiana
are a lie that’ll catch you out later.
An unanswered question,
a shame that’ll soak your clothes.
What happened to Mercy? a truth
you don’t know how to say
is the same as a truth you don’t know. One more little girl
who couldn’t be saved. Mercy
split the county-line crick
and walked through on dry ground.
Sally swore she never saw the day.


Rachel Custer is an NEA Fellow (2019) and the author of The Temple She Became (Five Oaks Press, 2017). Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in many journals, including Rattle, OSU: The Journal, B O D Y, The American Journal of Poetry, The Antigonish Review, Open: Journal of Arts & Letters (OJAL), among others.

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