Self-Portrait with Elegy

by Cynthia Atkins


This is what I would like to remember. The entire room fuselage
and the sky a circumference of hair ribbons and constellations—
Our manes were wide as the curtains. Fingers connected the dots and stars

with a horse on my back, follicles lifting the brunt of our history.
I painted out the voices, the DNA of X and Y’s. Inside the womb, the Ouija
board of portents. I hid in the shadows of the unborn. Colors were

feral arguments in the barn of our bedroom, where sibling love
painted a canvas of bedsheets. My sister used to tickle my back
at night, bring me pretzels thick with salt. Sister love—part hearts,

part arsenic. Like a wicked nurse checking for a fever, her pinky scraped
my flesh. My freckles dabbed, as if a painter were applying the last strokes.
We were told that God would be looking in on us—The fish tank

hummed, as their fish-eyes bulged into two drunk uncles leering at our
see-thru nightgowns, with flammable gills. We kept a diary of nettles, a pact,
a closer look inside our flowered zippered suitcases, with a lock and key.

She was the painter. I am the survivor—Our eyelashes almost touched.

CYNTHIA ATKINS is the author of Psyche’s Weathers and In The Event of Full Disclosure, and Still-Life With God. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals, including, Alaska Quarterly Review, Apogee, BOMB, Cleaver Magazine, Cultural Weekly, Denver Quarterly, Diode, Diode, Florida Review, Flock Lit, Green Mountains Review, Los Angeles Review, North American Review, Rust + Moth, Sweet: A Literary Confection, SWWIM, Tampa Review, and Verse Daily, and her work has been nominated for Pushcart and Best of The Net. Formerly, Atkins worked as the assistant director of the Poetry Society of America. She has received fellowships from Bread Loaf and the VCCA. Atkins teaches creative writing at Blue Ridge Community College and lives on the Maury River of Rockbridge County, VA, with her family. More info at:

Featured image: Self-Portrait (Inn of the Dawn Horse) by Leonora Carrington