There is a crack in everything,
that’s how the light gets in.
– Leonard Cohen
I first began to believe in darkness
when I was seven: it was made out of thirty minutes
spent inside of a closet. Thirty minutes
painted without light, the bowels of a mouth
that would not let me go. This was discipline,
Dad turned inside out, freeway nerves
too crowded and jammed to let little girl electricity
pass safely through. Sometimes, I am still inside,
waiting for the tongue beneath my feet to
roll me backwards down a rabbit hole –
and when I land, there will be no potion, no key,
no magic cake, and no door.
The first time I ran away, I was
fourteen. The closet had grown to encompass
three towns, three houses, and every school
I had already attended. This time, Dad
was no longer the gatekeeper: the Queen of Hearts
was there instead, with a face like Tartarus,
made out of fire.
One morning, a set of battered train tracks –
pockmarked metal rails, wooden sleepers half-rotted
like my days had become – changed themselves
into a crack of light. So did the trees and the creek
that ran along side the tracks in parallel, matching it
curve for curve. And so did
the ballast bed of pale stones that the tracks sliced through
as they slithered out of town.
I held back nothing but my name. I gave away
the rest of the details, little gemstones out of
a free, open hand. Yes, fourteen years old. Yes,
a runaway. Yes, headed south. I told him
my name was Alice, because you were still living in my head as
the refugee that I never could be: I thought that I
looked like your confusion, your courage. In that
little tin box of a motel room, he looked strangely
like a caterpillar. But by the end, a tiny, girl-sized garnet
still rested between my legs, not naked and proffered
in my open hand, and not seized by his. In that room,
I can still see a crack of light, trying to invade
through the space between a splintered, fallow doorjamb and
the edge of a milky blue door, peeling from age.
By the time I was eighteen, my closet grew to
four towns and a university. I’d dug
an earth hollow somewhere in the back to
make way for the Pool of Tears. Next to it, I’d planted
a garden of white roses by mistake – but they kept turning red anyway,
from the tinctures spilling out of my book. Between the pages
of bed sheets I’d been read, but the readers
kept closing the book and forgetting the plot. Once,
the outline of the Knave of Hearts spoke to me from
a shadowed corner where he was eating a few ripped-out pages
in silence. Past the thick dark, I could still see
a few smears of tart juice on his lips.
But there was still that crack of light. This time,
it was in the sky. I watched it, waiting
for broken mushrooms to fall through it.
You must think it queer that
I’ve enshrined you in my head. I thought that
your movies looked like mine. I should tell you
that the closet is now without walls – they and the ceiling
are now a mountain range of white dust that
plays backdrop in the distance.
How did it happen? One day, I shoved my fingers
through that crack of light. It gave way under my prying
until the ceiling screamed and ripped itself apart. The walls
followed suit, their purpose crumbling into dust.
My estates are now covered in sunlight. The
real caterpillar, sans hookah, lives with me;
he began asking me who I was ten years ago and
has not stopped since. The Mad Hatter
drops in for tea every day, describing how the crack of light
in his sanity keeps growing wider. And the Cheshire Cat,
the Doormouse, the White Queen, and the White Rabbit
roam free, no longer shadowed and sullen
underneath the Queen of Hearts. It is
a good life: I don’t need the potion, the cake, or
the mushrooms. And my roses
are white once again. I liked them that way
to begin with.
© 2010 Nicole Nicholson. All Rights Reserved.
This is the last poem written for NaPoWriMo 2010. Wooohoooo!!! I made it!
I used today’s free prompt over at Read Write Poem (sadly, their last prompt ever). I decided to in a sense “go out in style” (not me, RWP) and do a multi-part poem like I sometimes do. As you could tell, I used a Leonard Cohen quote and the Alice In Wonderland books for inspiration, weaving in my own life for good measure. I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing it!