by Hesse Phillips
The bell had rung,
and the corridor was strewn with girls,
backs against their lockers, sobbing
into their hands.
I walked through them like a ghost
who had been dead for centuries,
bewildered at their collective grief.
“He’s dead,” they said,
when I found the courage to ask.
“Kurt Cobain—he killed himself.”
I pretended to know who that was.
The news that night
told a gruesome version of the truth:
a shotgun to the face, obliterated.
My mother, curled
into the Lazy-Boy chair which bore
a void shaped like her body, wearing
a nightgown too long unchanged,
rubbed her dry lips
as if they belonged to someone else.
“How much do you have to hate yourself,”
she said, “to do that to your own face?”
The truth, of course
was that Cobain’s face was not destroyed.
In fact, when his body was found, they thought
he was sleeping
till they saw the blood. But even now,
the myth persists: the splatter, which put
punctuation to life—whether exclamation-point,
it didn’t matter. The loudness was the point,
not the sense; the inarticulate
boom, which revealed the invisible.
I, at fourteen,
was in the process of forgetting
how to express invisible needs,
as in, “It hurts.”
My new needs were unspeakable, and
my new hurts more so, but what I dared not
tell of, I could show. Cutting shallow cuts
into my arms
seemed to me an elegant solution
to the problem of showing versus telling,
as in, This is what it feels like.
My mother knew,
and tolerated my new habit strangely.
She liked to tell people, family and strangers,
“She cuts herself,”
as if it were some new style of music
she didn’t understand, but could explain
academically, having read books on the subject
of teenaged girls.
“This is my daughter. She cuts herself, but it’s okay,
many girls go through this phase. Many girls
try to destroy the bodies we gave them.”
Some weeks later,
I stood in the mirror and pressed
my razor into both cheeks: scared, shallow cuts
not apt to scar.
I would rather pretend I can’t now recall
my aims and objectives, my urgent message—
but I was trying to speak my mother’s tongue,
that much I’ll say.
I was learning to speak a second time
the same way I’d learned the first: by echoing
my mother, until an echo came back to me.
When it was done,
I realized how I had trapped myself;
there was no backing out. I had to face
what I had done.
I found my mother in her Lazy-Boy, the TV
turned up loud. I stood between her and the news,
ashamed, because I knew my message was noise,
that splits the skull. I wanted her to see it,
to feel it, and she did. “How could you do this to me?”
she said. “How could you do this to me?”
Hesse Phillips (she/they) is a graduate of Grub Street Boston’s Novel Incubator. Their poetry and prose have appeared in The Bridport Review, Embark: a Literary Journal for Novelists, and the époque press é-zine. They were a 2022 finalist in the Irish Writers Centre’s international Novel Fair. Originally from rural Pennsylvania, they now live in Madrid, Spain.