We throw little pieces of ourselves on the burnpile out back: clumps of hair, loose teeth, swathes
of skin and a little meat underneath--throw them where we burn the garbage. In this way we
make the ash, the fertilizer, the rich compost, damp and red-brown and vegetal to nourish our
offspring. Like the young that crawl from their eggs and have their mother's corpse for their first
meal, this is our great dream: that our worn-out bodies, our breastmilk-stained shirts, our put-off
dental work, our unfinished novel, the trip we didn't take, the part of us that is cheetos and
incomplete workouts and 12 hour days, the fat store that settles around the elastic waistband of
the pants with the hole, that these will be the raw material of something new and better, a feat of
conservation. Our old dry bodies will flake away and amass and the pile will convert magically
to pliant, rosy, new skin. Morning glories do this, use their spent bodies to support their
just-sprouted seeds. Their dried remains become the skeleton for the new to climb until the tendrils
mature and become thick enough to support themselves and choke their ancestors into a dust
nobody notices. Perhaps it happens in the night or in such small quantities nobody sees, but we
know those old gray vines are gone and flowers have sprung where they once were.
Like jesus with the loaves and fishes and the wine, she is trying to perform miracles of plenty.
She brings them in from the cold, dozens of them. They are shoulder to shoulder in the living
room, sandwiched like in the underside of a ship. The number is always growing. She can't bear
to see any living thing outside, exposed, unmothered. But once inside, the newly-mothered, at
first relieved perceive another danger. Every flat surface is a bed, and some are sleeping back to
back or in shifts. Even respiration is a problem at this scale, the air heavy with carbon dioxide
from the exhaling of sighs and cigarettes. Their faces are taught even after they are fed, still bent
to her, begging for more. They try to elbow each other out for an extra ration of something more
than food, but the squirming makes them seem more uniform not less, a writhing mass, an organ,
pulsing with unmet want. It's the same way the plants in my garden battle for sunlight. Each
plant extends its tendrils as far as possible toward the light, desperate to come out on top of the
dogpile of woven leaves and shoots. A good gardener culls, thins, engineers the space so each
surviving plant can access the nourishment it needs, each can stretch its phalanges open wide like
hands with palms to the sun. If not, if you are too soft to pick the winners and losers, if you
become distracted and allow nature to take it course, there is a fight for dominance. Their leaves
jut each way, too densely packed, a chaos. Instead of being able to bathe outspread in the light,
their cramped leaves are forced to fold like hands clasped in prayer, pleading to the sky.
Erika Eckart writes: I'm Erika Eckart, a mom, writer and high school English teacher, who lives and works just outside Chicago. I write poems that some regard as very short stories. My work has appeared in Double Room, Quarter After Eight, Quick Fiction, Women's Studies Quarterly, Nano Fiction and Quiditty, among others. In 2018, my book of prose poems "the tyranny of heirlooms" was released by Sundress Publications.