This is the season of giant hunger. Of transient phenomenon and ghosted young. Behold your username, your auto-generated password. Behold your vanished twin. Our bellies are full of pine needles and air. Premonitions of growing forms. When asked, do not disclose the location of your invisible daughters. Do not give up their names.


We are big-eyed, patient, and demure. We stumble into estrus. They want us. Of course they do. How slip between the milk-skinned trees. How tiptoe across the lunar skin. Across the pale and pockmarked acres. Only go quietly. Drop down. No matter how hard the body wants, don’t listen. Creep far on four knees. Too cold to dig a hole in December. Still where we hide they’ll never find us. All night we unheed. Captcha: give us thicket, give us cover. They scrape their antlers against the elms. We peep between the frostbitten blades. Down in the fallow tinsel, offscreen. We watch their velvet peel in dusty coils. We repeat: what you want we’ll never give up. Where we’re hiding, you’ll never find us.


Harvest the velvet. Save the velvet for the birthing season. Feed the velvet to your little ones. The little ones waiting in future-time, in nearby space, the dark horizon your stomach breeds. Listen: the little ones are coming. When they do, disguise the velvet as something delicious. Press the velvet between the baby’s teeth. Rub the velvet along the baby’s gums. What the stag sloughs off, make your children eat. Lie if you have to, five stars and foil finish. The velvet has been said to cure slow hearts, dull minds, and wobbly bones. The velvet has been said to cure even animals like you.


My mother works as a nurse at the convent down the street. The Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Yet again the miraculous overturning of barren women. First Mary’s mother, then Mary, then some women on television. We loved her so profoundly, we left her in the temple. She was three years old. Expression like a tangled chrysanthemum, heliotropic with devotion. Let us go now from room to room. My mother lifts the sisters into bathwater. They fear the drains. They bat their dusty eyelids. Help, help. Some days she finds them naked, nothing but a crooked spine at the window. Zebra in this light. They watch the deer sneak from the woods to drink black water from the lake. How slip between the headstones. How tumble over scattered graves. Stone women flower-bound at the heels, nested in their grottoes. Some mornings she finds them still in bed, belly up to receive.


We have been given the names of men. We have been sent to the second floor to die. Our gender now is bone. Risen veins draw atlases forehead to ankle. Where only tiny hooves will creep. Beneath the black veils we have no hair. From the windows we can see the place where we will be buried. We too seek out the lake but never arrive. We want to throw our black dresses into black waves. Some days the daughter is paraded from here to there. We like to touch her face and hands. When the doctor told her she would go blind we gave her a plastic bottle filled with holy water. We told her to rub it on her eyes three times a day. As you see now, she has not lost her vision. We know we are losing our minds and so what. Though the daughter refuses to sing, sometimes she dances in the dining room.


Turn thy benign countenance toward me. I call upon thee with all the ardor of my affection. I beg thee to obtain by thy prayers the favors I so ardently desire. The cart numbers the contents. See: this, this, and this. I want my bones to surface. I want my skin fixed, my teeth fixed, new eyes, four legs. I want to look better in this light. Smooth flank in predawn. I want flowers at the feet and silent, invisible daughters. I want to send their ghosts out into the dark water, to bob along as black waves crest. With emptied dresses and dark veils: out, away. I want to be smaller. I want to be gentler.


A hamster, a deer, a lion, a whale. All immaculately conceived. Interpreters say this is known as a practice dream. Giving birth to a lesser form of child. So what I told the doctor to get rid of the hamster. So what the deer spiraled out but I kept running. So what slick legs and tangled neck in the tall grass. So what I tossed the lion to the hot savannah. So what immune to humble roars. When the whale emerged, I held it in my palms. It lay on its side and stared up at me with its great black eye. Glubbed for air. Something crept from the motherly nook within. The doctor said, if you don’t put the whale in the ocean it will die. I wept then. Postmodern, I woke between the cradle and the shore. All the endings have been botched. I lost the answer key. Three security questions I don’t remember. My concerns are more specific. Animals who deem their surroundings unfit can absorb what grows within. That winter all the does hid while the stags shed. This process is called resorption. My main question is do dreams count when it comes to birth or murder. If so I have done both in equal measure. If so I am a violent case. Until 1979 in the state of Virginia they used to sterilize women like me.

: : : : :

BETH STEIDLE is a writer, illustrator, and book designer currently living in Brooklyn, NY. Her work has appeared in Fairy Tale Review, Drunken Boat, DIAGRAM, KGB Bar Lit Magazine, and several print anthologies. Her first book, The Static Herd, was published by Calamari Press in 2014. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and is a 2014 fellow in poetry from the New York Foundation for the Arts.

Our Bellies Are Full Of
Beth Steidle