Cardinal Directions

C. Kubasta


Trying to bring contraband home, we pack the checked luggage,
send it with the grandparents. Some shells, a piece of brain coral, but
it gets pulled in the screening. I have something small

in my carry-on. I’ve had luck with small transgressions, little
souvenirs. Once I brought back a turtle shell wrapped in dirty panties
and even though it triggered a bad check, the screener stopped, reluctant
to work his way through. Maybe I’ve just been lucky – maybe. Still,
I think the way to hide something precious or prohibited
is to wrap it in something more so.

The woman taking orders for coffee at the gate had a bleeding mouth
and she kept licking the new red, or wiping her lip with her sleeve
and looking, checking to see if & how it was healing. Maybe
a split lip from some innocuous event – maybe.

A translated line from Akhmatova reads, “We have learned that
blood smells only of blood” and maybe – maybe, but there’s also

taste, and this sends me down a rabbit hole to childhood:

each wound within reach of the early antiseptic of ourselves,
each jagged-toothed cut from a fall on asphalt stippled the sweet red insides
of the mouth, tasting that as we run to catch up, brush ourselves off, keep
going, after friends or siblings or cousins or whatever

we were chasing. I remember a curtain-darkened room mid-day – his voice
saying “iron-filings,” my limbs stretched toward the cardinal directions
of box spring corners. But I don’t recall if that was in reference to smell
or taste. I recall relief in that moment. But we were in childhood

a moment ago, and I’ve ruined it. Akhmotova wasn’t writing about childhood
either, although she began with the smells of wild honey & a girl’s mouth.

Maybe childhood ends when we learn to hide the precious thing. Maybe
our own blood smells only of blood. The precious thing

has different names, and some of them may be dirty. Someone – maybe –
will be afraid to touch it; someone – maybe – will uncover it. What matters

is the curtain-dark room, and whether one of you will name it:
childhood is over when we know blood other than our own.



C. Kubasta writes poetry, prose and hybrid forms. She is the author of several poetry books, most recently OF COVENANTS (Whitepoint, 2017). Her fiction includes GIRLING (Brain Mill, 2017) and THIS BUSINESS OF THE FLESH (Apprentice House, 2018). She is active with the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets, and serves as Assistant Poetry editor with Brain Mill Press. Find her at and follow her @CKubastathePoet.