Exile Queen

By Bethany Schultz Hurst

the trees
                  flaunting their flowers                      after a while
their blooms will die and then
swell into a fruit             and I submit to you                 dear viewer
               this process is not monstrous

we’ve spent too much time

at night watching these shows where the queens
               keep making bad choices
like torching the city with their pet dragons
               or with sickly green fire
                              lit in tunnels underneath                  because they are mothers

they love their children too much or is it

                                 not enough         the flowers this spring
are ridiculous              on the way into the theater alone in broad daylight
               for some comic book sequel                I can’t stop
shoving my face           into the showy pink organs
               of the parking lot trees

at night I’ve been balancing like a knife on my side
of the couch            the bed because I’m
too tired already to have anyone really
                                               touch me

                                                                                 enough already
with these velvet-eyed children
smudged in ash                  cling-wrapped to their mothers’ legs             enough
                 already with these ruined cities                my children beg
                 to come to these movies with me but I declare

                                 they are not old enough         really I just don’t want
                 to mediate whose hand is inside whose
         popcorn             whose arm has wandered past
         the neutral zone and into the fraught
territory of someone else’s
                                                armrest                I am wandering

between stories              I keep thinking at night of
                                   the dinghy waiting outside
the castle wall on tv                if the fallen queen could just
make it there through the rubble               I like to pretend that

               someone would love me enough to arrange
for my escape from the fallen city            even if I’ve been
a monster             even if I was the one who wrecked it

in the first place and I would dip my oars
               into the sea            and the ripples would scribe
across the water like a message
                                                            like the little “hi” inscribed

              in ballpoint pen             right at my eye level
on the movie theater bathroom stall where I retreated
               when I needed to pee so much I had to run
                                 from the carnage onscreen          how I contemplated

that handwriting             tried to remember
when I stopped wanting to leave behind
               that kind of mark             tried to remember when I was something
               in between the kindling and the torch
                              in there

the brightly lit bathroom              it was clean
                  enough          and I didn’t have to wipe up
anyone else’s pee
               and we all waited nicely
                                                            with dripping hands
patient for our turn at the dryer

                     before opening the door again into the cold darkness
      into whatever reconciliation can be conjured                       at the snap
               of the jacked-up hero’s fingers          after this

elongated last act          after this interlude

                               would my beloved even want
to be stuck in a dinghy with me
               now that I’ve been crowned the Queen
                              of No Fun Anymore               now that I would make
a spreadsheet of who should row
                                             and when               still
                                                                                 with any luck the wind
            will discover for us a shore that hasn’t even been featured
but was mentioned once in passing
                                by a secondary character       a nice warm place
that the tyrants have forgotten             a shore heavy with blooming

trees and again without permission I would bury my face inside
                 their bells and hear them ringing out

                  and I submit
                                                      to you                I cannot fully
                                    remember the many episodes that led us
to this war

Bethany Schultz Hurst is the author of Miss Lost Nation, winner of the Anhinga Poetry Prize and finalist for the 2016 Kate Tufts Discovery Award. Her work has appeared in Best American Poetry 2015 and in journals such as Ecotone, Gulf Coast, Image, Narrative, and Ploughshares. A recipient of a literary arts fellowship from the Idaho Commission on the Arts, she is an associate professor in creative writing at Idaho State University.
Website: bethanyschultzhurst.com

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