Tara Stillions Whitehead
Self Portrait for the Late Éduoard Levé
Unpack me, event by event, vital organ by vital organ, until I am completely inventoried into the shape of immeasurable truth: the girl who drove her mother to the mountain for ice, who trafficked sugar to the asylum in her underwear because she knew sweetness could save a woman from death more than once; the girl who remembers every time her mother left her hungry in empty houses.
When you wrote about tongues passing as strawberries, I recalled rotten fruit and the texture of seduction, a girl hushed by the lie that violence always makes a sound and burns red across the Milky Way, a girl whose body opened like a prayer at fifteen, who after years of forced glossolalia tasted the dry mercy of God, the flesh of black walnut embalmed with Ozark dew, a stranger in her father's home.
I've eaten in your deserted restaurants, and I still drop stones into emptiness to see which ghosts will form in the wake—a girl who drowned drunk in the Vltava during a snowstorm; who climbed Vysehrad to speak to the lightning about the thunder; who wept in Gaelic and surrendered to Aonghus Eion in the peat below Killary Fjord; a girl whose father pulled a drowned puppy from the backyard pool on his third wedding day and buried it in the aloe patch; a girl suspicious around bodies of water, who can't metabolize alcohol or superstitions, who sprints through unfinished housing developments at night just to get high; the girl who was never, ever pretty and has always hidden herself the way mothers conceal the bruise on an apple, its decaying softness tucked hard into the palm.
I know your shameful variations of house because I invented them. I played until it turned me into a secret, a nervous girl who loved to grind chalk into asphalt and cocaine into equal signs, thinking symmetry was the solution to powerlessness; who got wrapped up in Tarantino a little too young and kissed a French man with a Bad Motherfucker wallet in the violent joy of the MGM Grand; who awoke in hives to find him gone, vanished, eaten, murdered; the girl who sang too loud and too much as a small child, who fears low ceilings and anaphylaxis; whose sleepless mother taped tin foil to the window to simulate an artificial night, erasing the moon.
You imagined me into your legacy of negatives—a girl whose twin brother rescues dogs from people for a living and drinks too much when he thinks about their father and the smell of gasoline; a girl whose saddest memory is euthanasia and Ketamine and having no body to bring home, no proof of life before the divorce in absentia; a girl who studied Benjamin and Borges and Lispector in English and Lye and Brakhage and Varda in Czech, whose rap sheet is dirtier than yours, who fucked men without faces and then shattered her foot in the shadow of a bone church; a girl for whom travel was a form of spiritual suicide (but also rebirth), a form of character assassination—
but also, my friend, rebirth.
I do not recognize the scent of a tiger, but I have eaten glass and phencyclidine; I fear sudden thirst, and I know where to find drink, how to use it against myself to end the world.
When you write about the best days being behind you, I picture the fast girl who grew into the slow woman; I think about her empty bottles and crocuses beneath the porch, her half-folded list of men kissed, one penciled asterisk for the married, two for the ones who died young; I see the woman whose favorite time of day is a weather event, the unseasonable hour that scatters jacaranda like deserted memories across the road.
I see myself resurrect, marry the sky, and bear two lightning bolts. The first strikes hot beneath the mirror of the full moon—a daughter born reaching for the body and all of its secrets, for the shape of her mother—for me—a sun with instructions for casting shadow.
Tara Stillions Whitehead
writes: I am multi-genre writer and filmmaker who left the number one sitcom in America to pursue an MFA and unteach toxic Hollywood narratives to writers in undergraduate film and creative writing courses...and to write without violence. My work has been published in dozens of journals and has recently appeared in or is forthcoming from Monkeybicycle, cream city review, PRISM international, The Rupture, Pithead Chapel, Jellyfish Review, Writers Resist
and the tiny journal
Additionally, I have been the recipient of a Glimmer Train Award for New Writers, and I have been nominated for the AWP Intro Award and Pushcart Prize. My debut story collection, "The Year of the Monster", is forthcoming from Unsolicited Press in 2022, and I am currently at work on a lot of things, including a chapbook about parenting and fairy tales.