Two excerpts from “If by life” by Elizabeth Wade


Months of nightmares: yes.
But the thing that made me really angry,

the first thing I found the words to complain about,
was how the fracture feathered outward,

rippling over my cheekbone,
reminding me that cheekbone

is just a synonym for upper jaw,
and that I could not eat without it.

For weeks I subsisted on soft foods—
soups and puddings and milkshakes,

everything bland and colorless—
and in all that time

I could only name a single desire.
More than longing for my body back,

more than wishing to feel safe in my home,
more than praying my husband wouldn’t touch me,

all I wanted was a goddamn Gala apple,
its tart crunch yielding to my bite,

the urgent need to consume it before the edges browned,
to hunger and be fed, to swallow and be satiated.



In a different season, I began volunteering with animals,
and now, in the aftermath of this new brokenness,

I feel more comfortable with them—
the bona fide predators—than I do with many people.

I show off the snakes—my favorites—frequently.
I’ve learned to field common questions,

to explain the difference between poison and venom,
to speak of habitat loss, how we kill them out of fear.

Sometimes the visitors ask if I’m scared,
and though they usually accept my answer—No

once a man decided that I should be scared,
tried to startle the snake, waved his arms, shouted Boo!

The corn snake encircled my wrist, docile, undaunted.
I stood as the cop taught, weight distributed to receive an attack,

fist not quite clenched but ready.
Serpentine, unblinking, I stared the man down, said,

The snake’s unbothered, but I don’t understand
why you want to provoke a wild animal to harm me.

He stood there a long moment, then pocketed his hands and left.



You can read the rest of “If by life” in our Long Poetry Issue.




Elizabeth Wade holds degrees from Davidson College and the University of Alabama. Her work has appeared in such journals as Kenyon Review Online, The Oxford American, and Agni. She teaches literature and writing courses at the University of Mary Washington, where she serves as the faculty advisor for the Rappahannock Review; she’s also Managing Editor of NANO Fiction.

One response to “Two excerpts from “If by life” by Elizabeth Wade”

  1. […] these two excerpts from Collapsar contributor Elizabeth Wade’s poem, “If by life” […]

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