A Battered Woman Stands at her Bathroom Mirror
His heart is a room
that hasn’t been opened in years.
Trapped each night,
she crouches when he comes near.
“Don’t hide from me,” he yells,
though she tries not to hear.
His breath hot and sour
with the smell of beer,
he yanks her hair
and screams in her ear:
“Without me, where would you be,
my dear? My fucking dear!”
Is this love or blood
that tastes like fear?
These autumn evenings
stab as sharp as tears,
but her heart is full of dust,
a room stifled for years.
My father’s had the same dream for years:
a man takes me
in the gnawed-down core of night.
He had me sleep with the door cracked
until I was eight.
At twelve, he scared me
sitting watch by my bed.
When I was fifteen, he jumped awake
so fast from his dream
he smashed a vase and turned a chair
like a slapped cheek,
trying to get to me.
He stalked the yard with a gun
the summer before my marriage,
looking for a peeping tom.
I told everyone
he was silly getting me up
in the small spaces before dawn,
feeling my limbs
for broken bones and bruises
as if I had fallen down a well.
My brother said it was because
I was kidnapped when I was two,
taken by his crazy brother-in-law for a car ride;
my grandmother: because I ran off with the dog,
chasing a squirrel
through the bottom to the train tracks.
But when I asked,
he said neither was true: it was my cousin
who was in the car, my brother who got lost.
I never told him I had those same dreams,
the ones that come at odd times,
like the house settling,
that a man was standing by my bedroom window
all those years, waiting,
like the body I would grow into.
I could hear his breath as sure
as the bedsprings creaking, see his shadow
back and forth over my pillow, a bird circling.
My last year of college I dreamed
I was home again, the weekend free,
coming in late, my father having left the light on.
When I turned to lock the door,
his dream took over,
like an overbearing woman, or a song that plays
in your ears all day long. And I
was running from the man who had mocked
my father throughout years of sleep.
Down the hallway to my father’s bedroom,
but I couldn’t run fast enough.
Now I live hours away from him.
He sits up waiting for me.
Still, still I cannot run fast enough.
Beth Walker's poetry has been published in Light, Rose Red Review, and DeLuge, among others. She particularly enjoys writing about dream imagery. She is also a scholar who publishes about the imagery of violence against girls and young women.