Self-Portrait as Pretty Monster

Not all monsters have tentacles and pointed teeth.
Some of us have smooth shiny hair, rosy cheeks and friendly smiles.

After the pandemics and maelstroms, I learned more about being a monster.
We became mutants and we were built for subsistence.

We ate mushrooms grown in closets and picked sorrel and
watercress from streams. We learned to befriend animals like wolves

and bears to lead us to better prey. We learned to crack bones
with rough hands. Our insides were no longer normal.

Some of us glowed at night, which proved helpful
during the periodic blackouts, now that the sun had lost

some of its luster in the permanent smog. We forgot
which of us were leaders, so we all followed

our own paths, drowning dreams and watching the firelight.
Some of us studied microscopes and made up cures.

We forgot our names, but we learned what we were.
Out here in the last gleaming, we cultivated fear of shadows.

We became murderous. We taught poison and trigger and weighing
down pockets with stones. We learned our language

with new tongues. We learned the magic of survival in a suitcase.
You won’t recognize me as the monster, but if I enter your home,

beware the magic of moonlight, the quick movements
that bewitch. Beware the gold in my hair, the flamingo dress

and the ruby lips, the blood smear on my skin, the smell of smoke in the air,
uranium in the dirt and grass, the last flare of green fire.

Underneath my skin is some other story, a story of evolution and desire,
vectors and radiation burns, that ends in extermination.

Jeannine Hall Gailey