At twenty-five, adrift in the mirror,
I cried, It will never get better than this!
Sobbed as if a time-lapse film
unblossomed in the rented sheen

of the medicine cabinet. The girlishness
I was told to tend ready to crisp and drop.
That’s what pretty does. It dies.

So I shrugged off pretty, despite
my mother’s warnings, and chose
a cheap wedding dress that quit
at the knee and loosely shrouded

the most suitable I’d ever be. Refused
to process in regalia for my PhD.
Smart shatters the vase.

Smart skips the strappy heels.
Smart enough to learn I would never
matter to my father except
as I reflected him, I gathered

bouquets of promotions and pages,
each stained by pistils under pressure
for years. Now I’m a litter of leaves

molding in a specimen jar.
Through the bottle protecting me,
I see how often it’s the pretty one
gilded by honors. The irony.

It’s not that I picked the wrong
way to please, but my eyes
smart at the fumes sometimes.

Lesley Wheeler

Lesley Wheeler, Poetry Editor of Shenandoah, is the author of the forthcoming Mycocosmic, runner-up for the Dorset Prize, and five other poetry collections. Her other books include the hybrid memoir Poetry’s Possible Worlds and the novel Unbecoming; her poems and essays have appeared in Poetry, Poets & Writers, Guernica, and Massachusetts Review.


Major Arcana

O. Every time you speak, you’re dancing at the edge of a cliff.
I. Just seize the mic, ignoring the pong of scorched plastic. You will burn your candle at both ends and never die.
II. Be pomegranate. Come on, try.
III. Mantra: you are not everyone’s mother. This is an epoch of abundance. Scarf it down.
IV. There’s a dick in your life. Could it be an inner dick? If you live by the clock, break it.
V. So many futures to reveal, so many truths to tell yourself. In the meantime, whatever your temple, bring it flowers. You crave the groove of holy music.
VI. Volcanoes are fertile and aflame. Choose what you love—or love not to choose.
VII. The stars may bloom in daylight and sphinxes adore you, but you’d better keep your hieroglyphic armor on.
VIII. Maintain a firm grip on that red snout. Some fail to observe your magnetism, given the head-rush of roses.
IX. Dusk is swooning. Today will be resinous: rosemary, lavender.
X. See what happens when you ask a poem for advice? Every word is a chimera. All you can do is ride it.
XI. Expect an acid verdict from a sharp-tongued woman. Swallowing it may sting your throat.
XII. Upside, flipside: what crucifies you is also alive.
XIII. Don’t freak out. Desire always dies.
XIV. Pour yourself a glass of something expensive. Now share it.
XV. You didn’t need wine in the first place, you thirsty thing.
XVI. It seems like lightning forks down from the sky, but it leaps from the ground to knock you out. Life will zap your hat off with a thrumming sound.
XVII. There’s always a risk, yet if you pour out your nakedness, you just might shine.
XVIII. Appreciate that you are pulled into tides by a satellite.
XIX. Backed against a wall, you thrive.
XX. Roll your liquid eyes at prophecies, but the angel still arrives.
XXI. Float up and enjoy some perspective. You know how fireflies alight as they rise? That's beautiful you, luminescing.

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