Belle by Stacey Balkun

Almosthusband, I’ve found wrinkles
at the corners of my eyes and no matter

how low the candles burn, my complexion fades
beneath these chandeliers. Beast, my waist

has grown soft. The apples are rotting
in their bowl. I want to leave you

but I don’t know how; I can’t walk
any farther than your rows of fruit trees.

Have you been to the orchard lately?
The farmer has planted rifles to keep away

the birds. I pretend he’s my grandfather—
that this land beside your mansion is some birthright,

my ancestors buried in its dirt. I wanted
to read under the shade but the rhythm

of gunshots rang through me, an echo
in the space where a mallet used to bang

against my shell. That hollow is airless now,
an orchard without bird song. I used to have

a father who smelled like leather and woodchips.
Tell me about the house where you found me.

I think I made biscuits and gravy. I thought I could
love you, I thought I could break

your spell but now we’re both yoked
within awkward vows. I don’t sing anymore.

I’ve forged a history, drawn pictures
of a father and mother, two sisters so pretty

you’d leave me for them. They must be dead
by now. In this mansion so many miles from the city

where I was born, I have no one else. I’ll leave
this library, drop this book. Watch me forget

what I’ve imagined and wander through the rows
of fruit trees. See how the branches are pruned

so we can reach each fruit? There we can smell
the cider press, the sting of gunpowder.

Come with me to fill this basket with pears.

Stacey Balkun received her MFA from Fresno State and her work has appeared or will appear in Muzzle, Los Angeles Review, THRUSH, Bodega, The Feminist Wire, and others. She is a contributing writer for The California Journal of Women Writers at In 2013, she served as Artist-in-Residence at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

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