Woman

by Mikayla Toffler

In the thick of the night she lay

her head in my lap,

right in the soft hollowness

of the crevice made by my legs

crossed criss-cross applesauce;

a seat my body learned to make

so many long years ago,

before I knew how sweetly

it could hold the heads

of the many women I loved,

draped and exhausted.


In the dark of the night I watch

as her arms and legs curl

and collide atop my linoleum floor—

the way they always do

when here

in my lap

like this—

into one compound fetal position.

Her neck sprawled across my calf,

she’s crying to me, tonight.


She’s howling, spitting up

not words, only mucus;

writhing from her utter core

like an exorcism;

clutching my ankles,

with her red fingers and her nails,

piercing my skin with their tips,

clawing, frantically, to uncover bone.

As if

the white stability she’d find underneath

were capable of propping up

the both of us.

I sit there staunchly,

wholly fixated on maintaining

the solidness of my figure:


Rigid, for her

until the howling slows

and the tears dissipate;

until the breathing calms

and her eyelids close.

Rigid

until finally I know she is sleeping,

and I, too, close my heavy lids

to find plain, peaceful darkness,

and the relief of inevitable

defeat.