Three Poems by Danielle Nicole Byington

Sylvia Plath's Shoes

By accident, I saw Sylvia Plath’s death photo,
which I can’t unsee because she’s wearing high heels,
white strappy ones like women wear to church on Easter Sunday,
the woman’s body decorated so resurrection will not overlook her.

I wonder if she wore these fat, square heels 
to the phone booth when she called Hughes,
not to tell him that she was going to stick her head in the oven
but to tell him
about these shoes because she wore them before, 
when they had been somewhere memorable,
clod-busting, likely-scuffed stamps walking the poet
through the membrane 
of brevity-not-an-option. Maybe he liked seeing her 
in those shoes, standing in the living room, hip hiked 
with one of the children,
forgetting how others seemed less crazy, 
less difficult, 
less likely to stick their head in an oven while wearing those shoes.

Her left foot turns 
inward a bit, 
asphyxiated pirouette 
on the oven door—
her toes surely ballerina-stumped from no oxygen,
no more air inside the warm galaxy 
of her mind, the Earth resting 
on an oven rack, waiting like a casserole 
for someone 
in white high heels to remove

our first biology,
all of us
crawling out of the ocean; there, Plath moderates
the gases,

instilling poetry in the cellular division 
so we will hear her outside the oven,
recognize the stamp of white strappy heels
in a cathedral, so to not damn her cause

when a professor 
assigns her words—never mentioning 
those shoes in the lecture.

The White-Mouthed Story of Monsters


My uncle shot off a cottonmouth’s head 
by the pond, the taper of its tail reaching 
around like Jackie Kennedy’s hand 
on the Continental’s trunk, searching 
for pieces of the murder so that it might defeat 
its own history. My cousin and I counted 
its copper jigsaw saddles, 
practicing multiplication for math 
tests in the morning.

I admired the restless mortality 
of its angry carcass, an orb of muskrat
still digesting in the serpent length.
The snake’s remaining measure winded away 
from the scene up the gravel road,
without head or sense its ladder-lined belly
gliding away from the injustice a shotgun bestowed.

Yet, it remained, lonely, seeking company,
the stretch of its scales wrapping around a post 
of the electric fence, soliciting me 
when I got off the school bus,
wanting to know what I learned that day. 
Again, at night, tightly wound 
on the cool brass of my bed post, 
the scabbed loss of its arrow-shaped head
whispered silent bed-time stories—beginning 
and end recognizable only by this wound—
its bending, bronze coil
observing my sleeping head, 
dreaming bad dreams with me 
about humanity’s white mouth,
wondering how its poison will be remedied.

One, Two

I noticed a gentleman’s untied shoelace,
Knelt, wrapping one loop and pulling through the other,
Looked up at him, antique maps tattooed from his wrist to inside his shirt.
He asked me to speak at his dinner about the perks of 
Tying strange men’s shoes.

I sat beside of him and behind thickets of 
Complicated silverware, china set down, dressed, removed when 
Smeared by eaten cuisine.
He wore a large ring on his middle finger,
Tapped it against his glass 
Like people do in movies,
Indicating my speech on
Tying strange men’s shoes.

I talked about keeping my eyes on the ground,
Finding opportunity waiting in the untied lace,
Helping one loop find the other loop,
Like a lasso pulling up my chin;
Confessing I didn’t know about the sky above my head—
They applauded anyhow.

He rolled up his sleeves, exposing the world,
Dinner guests encouraging us to waltz,
The edge of a continent against my waist, Africa becoming Europe from
His forearm to his elbow, something Pacific on his wrist just touching my plain skin,
And he stumbles, his shoelace dragging on the floor with our steps;
We leave it untied.

Danielle Nicole Byington enjoys life with her Shakespearean better half in East Tennessee, where she teaches composition and literature. Her work has been published in journals such as The Cape Rock, Cold Mountain Review, Jersey Devil Press, and Rust + Moth. Her chapbook, The Absurdity of Origins, is from Dancing Girl Press (2019). She completed her English-MA at East Tennessee State University in Early Modern literature and creative writing. Danielle served as editor for the 2017 volume of ETSU's literary/arts magazine, The Mockingbird. She also co-directed an all-female Hamlet at ETSU, additionally acting as the principle editor of the production's script. 

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