Daughters Saving Mothers

Daughters Saving Mothers
Holly Lyn Walrath

I keep her in the hope chest
and when I come home she presses
her lips to the keyhole and asks
are you holy? are you harmless?
her body is a ring, her mouth
clamped around her ankles
acid teeth slowly devouring skin
and bone from sinew
and I promised I would save her
so I go out into the ashfall
and inquire of gold sellers
snake charmers, dumpling carts
do you know a way to save my mother?
I’m asking all the wrong questions.
am I like her
the men wipe their hands on towels
and listen with kind blue eyes
shaking their heads sadly
and I shrug farther into my coat
where the red ash forms a line on my skin
will I be like her
I don’t feel any urge to suck my toes
my teeth are ground flat, I chew
on my lips until they bleed
in alleyways I give men a quick kiss
for the next piece to the puzzle
I knew a woman with the disease,
they say before they hold me
I come home empty-handed
I pull her, slippery and heavy onto my lap
I want to lock her away like a secret
and throw away the key
but I can’t, I won’t
I love her like I love myself
In the shower, red swirls of ash
Our World isn’t long for itself
I curl up in the porcelain tub
and sleep under the water
wasteful, wasteful, she would chide
there comes a day when I crave flesh
no, need it, want it, don’t care how
am I her or is she me
I don’t let her see the man I bring home
I twitch the blanket over the hope chest
kick it into the closet
and make the choice she wasn’t
able to make, for she was braver than I
and I keep looking for ways to save her
even when her mouth is at her waist
and so little of her remains
soon I will be the only reminder
of the devourer we’ve become


Holly Lyn Walrath’s poetry and short fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons, Fireside Fiction, Daily Science Fiction, Liminality, and elsewhere. She is the author of the Elgin Award-nominated chapbook Glimmerglass Girl (Finishing Line Press, 2018). She holds a B.A. in English from The University of Texas and a Master’s in Creative Writing from the University of Denver. You can find her canoeing the bayou in Houston, Texas, on Twitter @HollyLynWalrath, or at www.hlwalrath.com.