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“Driven Nail Cure”


If you’ve seen a prayer spoken, you know something 
            of what I mean. The purpose of the prayer list, 
                        read by the priest aloud, prior to a silence, is to hold 

                        names’ wetted wafers in the mouth. A person 
            creaks like small gravel—you told me that. 
You told me trees make speech sounds, growing. 

You’re not one person, but it’s clear you’re far away 
            from the plot I’ve made. Hard ground. Every cold 
                        recalls first cold, as in my Virginia’s first winter, a wind 

                        half-silvered, sharp as a mirror we’re given back through 
            but through which we can’t see. Same as now. If you’ve seen 
a handmade nail, you can’t help but draw 

the modern ones backward, the way the art of dark caves portends 
           our paintings—an abiding absorption in effigies, marks, and asking 
                       that something happen, and in the way we want. 

                       Sometimes in Appalachia a German custom kept: 
           sink a nail in a tree at the height of a child, to cure it. This presumes 
the child has time to grow past what’s driven. 

Presumes incantation and walking eastward. Certain conditions 
           must be met, that other events may follow. The list 
                       will keep growing in the quiet, as little the names 

                       you might mean to add. The mirror might show a fix and distance 
           you didn’t intend. Land slips. Its red color. You take the child 
from the home before day. Before the charm, neither may speak a word.

Emma Aylor is the author of "Close Red Water" (2023), winner of the Barrow Street Book Prize. Her poems have appeared in "New England Review," "AGNI," "Colorado Review," "Poetry Daily," the "Yale Review Online," and elsewhere. She lives in Lubbock, Texas.

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