Holly Painter

Little Obedience

I’m the little obedience
that sits at your feet,
growling and whining
I would never hurt you first

You list a thousand ways
to flake me off into
my constituent pieces,
loyal, inconsequential

I’ve never met a person
who can’t see the color blue,
who spits bile from the roof,
who wastes so much love as you

but the raggedy borders
between us are nothing
because I’ve got love to burn
down the walls

A Special Person

At fourteen I beaded my wrists
with an old Girl Scout knife.

In the ER, I was visited
by two friends, older kids I idolized,
dressed for a date I interrupted.

They drew on my hospital gown
in brown magic marker:
hearts, smiley faces, the words
“Feel better little buddy!”

The next day, floppy pink flowers arrived
marked “To a special person”
with no signature.

I wanted them to be from my friends.
I wanted to be a special person.

They were from my dad
and I was ashamed.


The poets were the last to realize that they were obsolete.
They tried to come up with a neat turn of phrase
to describe the sensation of only being read by their mothers
but it eluded them, as so many perfect phrases had.
They once passed the predawn hours breathing in the dust of their pillows,
burrowed deep, trying to create a vacuum of senses in which to remember
the words lost in their dreams, berating themselves for forgetting.
But no one noticed what was missing
and soon the poets stopped sleeping anyway.

Author Portrait

Holly Painter is the author of the poetry collection Excerpts from a Natural History (Titus Books, 2015). Her work has appeared in Barrelhouse, cream city review, Sport, Landfall, New Zealand Listener, JAAM, Arena, and others. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand, and lives with her wife and son in Vermont, where she teaches writing and literature at the University of Vermont. Holly is currently working on a nonfiction book on obsolete jobs and a poetry collection based on cryptic crosswords.

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