I’ll tell you a story, Mama.
A boy goes on a journey, Mama.
His mama says, “No journeys.”
Already my son understands how to birth a story, the push-pull of people with different wants, threat in the shape of one who disobeys. He crafts suspense: the heart-spark of the child on the verge of flight, the heartstop of the mother of the flying child.
Then he goes to the forest.
Is that the scary part?
He tests my face. He knows there must be a scary part, knows the unknown is where fear resides, that lurking in the leafy green may be something enticing, erasing.
He meets a lion.
Is that the scary part?
No matter no lion lives near this state, no matter the name of the threat, the metaphor poised to break my tender boy.
And the lion is hungry, Mama,
and the lion attacks him.
I keep my face, my voice quiet. I am not sure the child is dead; I wait for what hero or moral will pop from this darkness.
And then his mom comes looking for him.
And she meets the lion.
And she says to the lion, “Please eat me.”
I ask why she wants the lion to eat her.
She wants to see the boy again, Mama.
And he knows just what I would do, just what I would say, that I would scour the lion’s stomach for my son, that I would join my son in the interior, that I would not go on without my son, that I would tear the lion throat to haunch as it opened its jaws to receive me.
And the lion eats her.
Then she finds the boy.
In what condition, I want to ask, but don’t, waiting for him to explain if the two are stewing in lionly innards or the two are holding hands, Jonah-and-the-whale style, ready to tickle the lion into launching them toward safety.
And no such ending comes, just the mystery of why my son circles around eaten children, searching mothers, and the need to create something that scares me, gets a rise, a reaction, reassurance perhaps that I would be that mother, diving into the unknown, ready to fill her hands with whatever she could salvage.
Emily Pérez is the author of Backyard Migration Route (Finishing Line Press), a poetry chapbook exploring literal and figurative borders from her childhood on the Texas/Mexico border. She graduated with honors from Stanford University and earned an MFA at the University of Houston, where she served as a poetry editor for Gulf Coast and taught with Writers in the Schools. A recipient of grants and scholarships from the Artist Trust, Jack Straw Writers, Bread Loaf Writers’ Workshop, Summer Literary Seminars, and Inprint, Houston, she is also a member of the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. Her poems have appeared in journals including Crab Orchard Review, Calyx, Borderlands, and DIAGRAM, and her first full-length collection of poetry, House of Sugar, House of Stone, was published by the Center for Literary Publishing in spring 2016. She teaches English in Denver, where she lives with her husband and sons.