Chicken Pox, Leopard Pillow
by Julian Koslow

My hands are hot,
heavy as plaster casts, useless.
Don’t scratch.

Dozing in and out of the room
parents come and go
like apparitions.

Faces in the stucco ceiling appear
and disappear in the changing light.
Mrs Blunny looms over me with a washcloth;
“Leave the light on,” I say.

Staring until the brightness stings, listening
for the voices, the nightly rehearsal,
ear pressed to a secret radio.

At last they begin: a duet in the key of wrath,
starting softly, then rising
the way heat climbs up the pipes, first
the dull thump in the furnace, then knock
and bang, question and answer, ratcheting
clamor eating through the walls
till the whole house is a cry
of hammers.

When the leopard in my pillow roars, I bolt
upright in the night-filled room, the light
is off, and the dark has crept in the windows,
leaked in under the door, and slowly
flooded the room to the top.

I hold my breath,
waiting for proof.

A lone car mutters by. Headlights
slide up the wall and escape
through a crack in the ceiling.
The room throbs with fever, listens
like a jungle. I could call out.

Turning the pillow over, I turn the leopard
face down, lay my head
in its mouth, and sink fast
into the cool reprieve, the silent
hastening black of the other side.


Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 23, Issue 1.

Julian KoslowJulian Koslow was formerly a professor of Renaissance English Literature at Virginia Tech, and is currently a full time parent living in New Jersey. He has published previously at Avalon Literary Review.

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