Ashley Shufflebarger

So It Goes

Jung’s Undiscovered Self lies open
and highlighted on the bottom shelf,
while my uncreased how-to guides
scream bold clichés from glossy covers:
Be Happy Today, Not Tomorrow and
Become a Better Girlfriend and Thrill Him!
They stand like little villages trapped
in snow globes, and I wonder,
should I have read them?

An old letter of yours lists the classics
that would make me a scholar
deserving of your love:
Eco, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche—names
that sounded like kings on thrones.
You lorded them over me until
I had read them all.

In parting you stood a copy
of Slaughterhouse-Five
half-opened on my bookshelf
and I left it there to remember you by
even after I piled up everything else
and burned it in a bonfire
one vindictive night—I thought of Dresden,
where instead of mass burials,
flamethrowers flattened districts
to rubble and ash.

I watched your trousers burn
for hours that night. So it goes.

 

 

 

Children of Divorce

On frantic mornings
our mother pinned her curlers
with sharp acrylic nails
and frowned, mumbling
she wanted to join
a convent or waste away
at an ashram hermitage
far away from us.

When she left
for a new lover’s fortress
just a few miles north,
Dad poured a cocktail
of melancholy, and tried
to ignore the pictures
of exotic places
stuck in our notebooks.

Most days we’d watch
Dad’s gaunt chest rise
in the yellow TV light,
and split the “fun nuggets”
found in the fridge
from a month-old box
of Kid Cuisine.

At school, always
a hair’s breadth from help,
our small fingers
shoved away hugs
from teachers with sad eyes.
We’d paste their smiley-face
stickers next to Hawaii
in our diaries.

On quiet evenings
we’d save Mom a seat
at dinner, porcelain plate
unfilled on the bare table
while Dad looked away
and drank Captain
on the cavalier loveseat.

In wrinkled bedsheets
we clutched at dim moonlight
behind drooping curtains
and squeezed tight together
our small fingers
until we couldn’t tell them apart.

 

 

 

The Wrong Dress

No Chantilly, no bow at the back
or flowing caboose.  I’ll don muslin
if I can—sturdy white straps,
the neckline square.

I’ll wear matte black shoes
or none at all. I’ll walk
down the aisle alone,
not on my father’s doting arm.

No bitchy mother-in-law
will stomp from rehearsal
because someone else bought
the same teal dress and, good God,

she wanted her moment to shine.
No bridesmaids will daub
too-dark eyeliner. I won’t stomach
whispers of “she’s so beautiful.”

No glitzy cake, no plastic
bride and groom
beaming at the peak
like they scaled Everest.

I remember how I used to plan
with you in bed, pillows tucked
between us like spare bodies.
I wanted to be barefoot

on the beach; you preferred
a sober suit and tie.
I won’t think about the day
I met your new fiancée

in the frozen foods aisle,
how she flaunted her big ring,
marquise and sharp enough to cut.
I’ll close my eyes, iron out

my hem with my hands
and know the man waiting
won’t leave me, a bride at the altar
with a gaudy gold ring.

 

 

 

Biographical Note for Ashley Shufflebarger

 

Ashley Shufflebarger is a full-time English major, full-time AmeriCorps VISTA, and full-time space cadet with a knack for losing anything that isn’t attached to her body.  When she isn’t working or writing, you can find her adventuring the majestic land of Indianapolis with her sidekick, Winston the Welsh Corgi!

 

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