Shilo Niziolek's (she/her) creative nonfiction book, FEVER, is out from Querencia Press. Her chapbook, A Thousand Winters In Me, is forthcoming from Gasher Press. I Am Not An Erosion: Poems Against Decay was part of Ghost City Press’s online summer series 2022. Her work has appeared in Pork Belly Press, [PANK], Juked, Entropy, Oregon Humanities and HerStry, among others, and is forthcoming in Phoebe Journal, Crab Creek Review, Literary Mama, Sunday Mornings at the River and Pumpernickel House. Shilo holds an MFA from New England College and is associate faculty at Clackamas Community College.
DO NOT PERCEIVE ME
In Historic Charleston, I’m white-poor / white bread with butter, sugar cinnamon / toasted / trailer trash dessert / my edges burnt / they smell it on me the minute I step into their stores / the check of my tattoos / unholy when I come in the door / my seven dollar top / twenty dollar shorts / while outside the Spanish moss drips down / like the three-story pillared porches / the droop of decay / dripping like the tennis bracelets & diamond rings on the hands of purebred white women walking their purebred dogs / Everything about this place doesn’t want me /
but twenty minutes away I dive / headfirst into the Atlantic / come up dripping salt / lick it off my lips in the warmth of the sun / I say hello to the beetle wandering by / watch butterflies dance in humid air / take the street art path to a lighthouse / lines and lines of spray-painted affirmations / animals & love proclamations / a pink painted ghost that says / do not perceive me / a mantra that carries me through the rest of my days in South Carolina / I walk through the chartreuse-coated swamp / nod at the lurking gator, the running lizards /
marvel at vultures;
say goodbye to turtles, heads
lifted to the sun
HE CALLS ME LIZARD LADY, AS IF SLOWING YOUR HEART RATE TO SURVIVE WINTER ISN'T A SKILL
My partner’s body a furnace beside me.
We argue over AC on or off. My hands ice-cold to the touch, toes frosted.
I draw all the heat inward, I think, as if to protect my warmth against those who would try to take it from me.
Like the woman who, in Texas, was chased by a man up the stairs of my apartment complex, his face fury.
I stepped down the stairs, blocked her from view, my head at his level three stairs up. He froze, locked eyes, as I did with the moose around the bend in Yellowstone, my young wild blond hair flying behind me like a box of matches.
Me the moose, statuesque, pure flame. I save the heat to make your blood run cold.
Years after the moose, but before the man on the stairs, me, a girl hiding in the dark of night in a ditch, ice winter rain pouring down around me, the cool press of a blade in my hand as headlights on my car search the landscape, a man in my driver’s seat, screaming my name.
I'M COLLECTING DEAD THINGS FOR MY ALTAR:
the turtle, palm-sized, who will never swim again, the deer bone painted with wildflowers it will never again run through, the rabbit turned jackalope who won't bounce across a field, a beetle who won't crawl through pine bed of forests, bat who won't fly, locust who won't hop. I'm stopping time, or freezing it at least, something to mimic the frame of my deteriorating body, a cage for your mantel. When my therapist asks why I feel guilty for "wasting" time, I can only think of what illness has taken, will take, & say to my deer bones: go steady now, my bat wings: reach now for the highest places, my jackalope horns: for now, you are magic, my beetle exoskeleton: kiss lightly now the bark of the tree, my turtle shell, now the water cradles you; what you love cannot die.
TAXONOMY OF LOVES
In elementary school I filled my diary with their names
the girls in school who I could see loved them.
By middle school I lined up the skateboarding bros with
dark brown hair, some spiky styled, some wispy & flicked off
the face in a fluid motion, some long and tucked behind the ears.
A peck kiss when I felt nothing, a sweaty hand to hold.
Cartography of lockers.
In high school, in a new state, I burnt my body wild
over the altar of a boy’s body. Burn the witch I think I pleaded,
hands pressed above my head, behind my back, holding. Boy with
the freckles, boy with the pale skin, boy the with blue eyes turnt black.
Collection of body parts.
In the middle of the night I'd slither on my belly out the house,
all coil, fuck in the dark, in the woods, in the dark of the woods;
in the moss knees pressed to the pine needles littering the ground.
Then, in-between, boys who meant nothing or little to nothing,
back again, then boys who made me temporarily forget, then boys
who were men but were still unable to make me ___.
Then the pain came, late to the party & explained only by the pine cone,
pine needle, press of the no no no in my lungs.
Now I revolt against their touch, these men who were boys,
these life partners and helped-me-make-this-house-a-home-men.
I only think of the soft touch of a girl I kissed, standing on the
Alderbrook Pier all those years ago. Hands clasped plummeting into the drink of the river.
HOW TO CONFESS
And still / I feel the hum of the elderbull, snout pressed into sunlight investigating the scents of mourning / and still / I watch the squirrel’s tiny feet run across the fence line, keep the hush of it to myself / still / I laugh when one squirrel pounces on the back of another and they tumble down into the arborvitae, clinging with their tiny hands to the tiny branches for their tiny dear dear lives / and still / I dream about sex even when my body turns from bodies like my body's body isn't the source of my own pain / and still / I log on to therapy when I know it won't save me, won't save you from me, won't save us, won't send down the reckoning from the gods we won't believe in / and still / the moss / and still / the bees buzzing / and still / the hummingbirds hovering / and still / the August heat curls around my toes and I yell when I get too hot, too hungry, too much of a migraine in my left brain above my eye, the place where I hide the bodies / and still / I listen to the squirrels chatter, watch the crows hop hop hop, shimmy-shake in the bird bath, turn at the rap tap tapping of the downy woodpecker on the power pole, think I'd watch any power point over and over again made by these creatures—learn what they have to teach me / and still / I am a ghost, am a haunting, am my prior and current and future and former selves holding the bucket of water, swinging the bucket around and around amazed that not one drop falls / and still / I take it in my hands, wanting the catastrophe to befall, turn it upside down above my head and stand there in the drink imaging I'm dunked in the river / and still hope / and still / death, dying, illness, decay / and still / the pink of sunset / and still / your name /