Archival Features, New Series, Poems

Adrienne Raphel: “Confession”

I wrote “Confession” in the winter, recently after I had moved from Iowa City to Cambridge, MA. I’d moved from a rambling attic apartment with secret unfinished rooms to a partially furnished attic studio with a shared bathroom down the hall. My writing space was the floor.

The convent of San Marco in Florence, Italy contains small, individual cells, like a beehive, that monks would use for devotion. Each cell is bare save for a simple fresco by the early Renaissance master Fra Angelico. My room in Cambridge hardly had a monastic aesthetic; books and clothes were piled in geological strata. Every so often, I would find a bee feebly circling around the lampshade, or a couple of dead bees in the windowsill.

“Confession” came to me after receiving a phone call very early in the morning from a friend whom I hadn’t spoken with in months. I don’t know why she chose that morning. She was in a difficult relationship, unhappy, isolated, yet surrounded by a city; I was feeling adrift and lonely, uncertain of what I was supposed to be doing, or even what I was supposed to want. I stared at the carpet and picked at a bit of the nubbly blue. I hated the wall-to-wall carpeting. I picked at a hangnail until it bled.

Things got better. My friend got out of both the relationship and the city; I developed a community and let myself have a sense of purpose. A pussy willow branch tapped against the window. The next summer, I found a new apartment. About a month before I was to move out, exterminators came to my door, saying that they’d seen a swarm of bees outside my apartment, and that they suspected a hive in the building. I left for a few days and came back to a tarp stretched across one wall, sagging like a hammock under the weight of bee corpses. The exterminator told me that there had been a twenty-year-old hive in my walls, with seventy thousand bees living inside.

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Confession

I haven’t got any.
You had a wood floor.
I lay on your floor.
I don’t think I feel things,
Why don’t I feel things?
I got a phone call.
Picked at my carpet.
Picked at the blue salt.
Everything is listening.
I am not shaking.
I could pick my hangnails.
Start at the nail
Triangle of skin
Then a vertical dent.
Long and then longer
Curved down on the thumb.
I can keep going.
The worst is no hangnail.
Skin to the core
Pink and striated.
Dig in my fingernail.
This is my carpet.
I didn’t pick it.
Some color nubbed blue.
Tugging out salt.
City in my ear.
I haven’t talked in months.
What should I feel.

Adrienne Raphel is the author of What Was It For (2017, Rescue Press), winner of the Rescue Press Black Box Poetry Prize, and But What Will We Do (Seattle Review, 2016), winner of the Seattle Review Chapbook Contest. Her work has appeared in the New Yorker online, the Poetry Foundation, The Paris Review Daily, and Lana Turner Journal, among other publications. Raphel earned an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and she is currently a PhD candidate in English at Harvard.

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