Krysten Hill

On a Scale of One to Ten

Amethyst Arsenic


I don’t know how to count

the times my father showed me how

men hide their love, how mercy

can be contained in quiet gestures.

How many times did he pile too much

food onto my plate, or pick

an eyelash from my cheek

asking me to make a wish?


But only once did he have to

put his finger down my throat

to make all my mistakes

come back up on a bathroom floor.

Taught me palms can be both cruel

and forgiving when he

pushed them into my chest,

listened for my breath

the same impatient way

he listened for my lungs

when they lifted me

meconium-wet from my mother.


When the nurse asks

me to place my pain

on a scale of one to ten,

I’m seventeen in a room

of adolescent suicide artists.

The bulimic girl that braids

my hair like we’re at a sleepover

tells me how she did it

with a box cutter in her garage

while her family was at Pizza Hut.

The goth chick says she

learned to tie rope knots

from Girl Scout magazines.


I grew up hiding

matches from my mother

so she wouldn’t burn

the house down.

My father said I was just like her.

I could let a glass slip

out my hand, stare

too hard at him

or at a spider before killing it,

could slip into her

dresses and zip their spines up

over my body without any struggle.


I lined up barbiturates

on the counter and counted

backwards, until I couldn’t

because on a scale

of one to ten, how many times

did I watch her

strike a match to life

to let its yellow head burn

down to the tips of her fingers

until the living room

smelled like skin and sulfur,

and the table top

scarred with spent

bodies of matchsticks?


On a scale of one

to ten, who cares

how you measure it.

The cheerleader

just says it was an accident.

The girl that never sleeps

writes her six-month-old daughter’s name

over and over on the chalkboard

in the rec room like some kind

of punishment. At some point,

we all get sick

of counting.



Kansas City Loves You

Pank Magazine


but you’re tired of her so

you pick a fight with a bottle

of Mad Dog 20/20 on a bet

that you’d puke neon. You do.

A hipster takes a picture

of it so you leave that party

in a city that knows you’re

unarmed. It loves the smell

of your need for anything

liquid or pulsing, leads you

to an alley bar where you find

a girl who leans close

to complain about her infected nipple

ring. Kiss her to make her stop.

Her girlfriend is watching, promising

to cut you if you touch her

again. You dare her. Aim

her imaginary shank to the wrong side

of your chest. Turns out she’s all talk. So

are you. The moment resolves

into a Queen song on the jukebox.

Try to fit the movement

of your hips into a song that

doesn’t want you. Settle for a boy.

Tell him to call you anything he wants.

He whispers Grace in your ear

like he’s saying a prayer

for a better woman. When you fall

off your barstool he’ll promise

to kiss your bruise later which is all

anyone really wants so you follow him

to his apartment. He shows you pictures

of women bound in ribbon. You ask him

to show you his bathroom, the walls

a muddy midnight you want to lick.

Your body settles for tiled floor

to cool your bum wine fever, holds you

better then he could. You swear you can

hear his disappointed hard-on thumping

against the other side of the bathroom door,

and you try dreaming an exit.






Women in my family

don’t trust their dead to plots

and cherry wood coffins.

They play them

on the inside of their eyes

when they pray.


Projectors run

their memories

in blind, white light.

Spirits fall out

their mouths

in scriptures.

It’s hard to tell

who’s  speaking.


They keep them

in glass jewelry boxes

that stay locked

on coffee tables.

Frame photos of open caskets

and call them

Mother and Father.

Wear their second sight to bed.

Converse at 3am.

Call this counsel.


What the women

in my family

do with the dead

is their business.

My aunt married a corpse

who built coffins in my heart.

Told me I didn’t want

his dead man sadness.

Sometimes, caught him,

with white marble eyes

he let me borrow

from time to time.


The women in my family

give the dead

to their daughters.

My mama gave me

her dead mother’s name.

I’ve drowned

in her dresses,

tried on her smile.

My mama is looking

for some stronger

woman in my eyes.


I don’t tell her

that Grandmother

comes to me in dreams.

Grants me time

in the garden

of my childhood.

Collects fears that slip

from my eyes.

They’re withered peach pits

when they fall

into her waiting apron.


She shows me a place

to bury them,

near a dogwood

where I buried

my baby teeth.

She promises

they’ll come back

as something I can eat,

a fruit so plump

it will feed me

a lifetime.

We stare at the disturbed

earth and wait.

Krysten Hill © 2014 All Rights Reserved