April / May Contest Winner: Erin Emily Ann Vance’s “Whiskers”

Between classes I haunted vault of the
University of Calgary archives where I
worked as a grad student.

I lingered, always, by the first editions
of Plath and Sexton.
Like a good luck charm I’d run my finger
along the tip of a badger’s whisker
that Ted Hughes taped into a hand-stitched
chapbook shelved next to an early edition of
The Colossus.

One day I will run my fingers along the marbled spine
of the box at the Lily Library
that contains Sylvia’s hair
shorn in childhood,
hair that never felt Ted’s brute fingers.

I wonder
if Ted plucked those whiskers from a badger in the wild,
its thick musk heavy like Sylvia’s memory.

But no,
Ted couldn’t touch a woman without cowering
into his study,
never mind a wild animal.

He always did like to pluck bits and pieces
from the dead as they lay helpless.

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