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Krysten Hill

On a Scale of One to Ten

I don’t know how to count
the times my father showed me how
men hide their love, how mercy
can be contained in quiet gestures.
How many times did he pile too much
food onto my plate, or pick
an eyelash from my cheek
asking me to make a wish?

But only once did he have to
put his finger down my throat
to make all my mistakes
come back up on a bathroom floor.
Taught me palms can be both cruel
and forgiving when he
pushed them into my chest,
listened for my breath
the same impatient way
he listened for my lungs
when they lifted me
meconium-wet from my mother. 

When the nurse asks
me to place my pain
on a scale of one to ten, 
I’m seventeen in a room
of adolescent suicide artists.
The bulimic girl that braids
my hair like we’re at a sleepover
tells me how she did it
with a box cutter in her garage
while her family was at Pizza Hut.
The goth chick says she
learned to tie rope knots
from Girl Scout magazines.

I grew up hiding 
matches from my mother
so she wouldn’t burn 
the house down.
My father said I was just like her.
I could let a glass slip
out my hand, stare
too hard at him
or at a spider before killing it,
could slip into her
dresses and zip their spines up
over my body without any struggle.

I lined up barbiturates
on the counter and counted
backwards, until I couldn’t
because on a scale
of one to ten, how many times 
did I watch her 
strike a match to life
to let its yellow head burn
down to the tips of her fingers
until the living room
smelled like skin and sulfur,
and the table top
scarred with spent
bodies of matchsticks?

On a scale of one
to ten, who cares
how you measure it.
The cheerleader
just says it was an accident.
The girl that never sleeps 
writes her six-month-old daughter’s name 
over and over on the chalkboard 
in the rec room like some kind
of punishment. At some point,
we all get sick
of counting.


Krysten Hill is a recent graduate of the MFA program at UMASS. She has featured at Literary Firsts, U35, Stone Soup, Breakwater Reading Series, Write on the DOT, and the first Somerville Encyclopedia Show. Her greatest desire is to form a collective of women poets who travel around teaching the power of voice to the girls on front porches who wonder what that aching in their chests is all about.