Rachel Custer

Rachel Custer lives with her partner and their daughter in Northern Indiana. Her work has previously appeared in Rattle, [PANK], BlazeVOX, Literary Orphans, and Burnt District, among other places.


Mirror. A cracked-dirt patch of mirror
shards. A man who calls his dirt a yard,
who calls his woman mine. Wine-dark
with fury beneath the rag of his under-
shirt, stiff beneath the knotted pride of
his spine. On a scale from one to ten,
his pain-level is fine. On a scale of one
to this is my last beer, he’s nearly back
to black sleep, having hours ago passed
her fear. She’s thin in the window like
a blade of grass, edged like a glass flask
her cognac lips the stopper of her eyes.
If a kindly older man was to drive by
in a rattletrap of an old truck, he’d cast
his eyes out quick, then bring them back.
He’d pride himself on minding his own,
and he’d head home. But later, when he
looked in the mirror, he’d know. Though
he might not tell himself out loud, he’d
know. A man don’t fall asleep that way,
in the sharp glass dirt of his own yard.
No sane woman has eyes that hard.


Saturday night Saturday night. The women dressed for dancing the men
for fights. The work week is over the world is right. The world is light
on the shoulders of hard men. The boulder of sin lifted by the grace
of simple need. As if even God agreed, constant work and worry is not
a life. If the spirit is like a broken dog, who must be hand-fed, the body
is a wolf who must hunt, and feed. The bass beat swallows air, turns
words to greed. The bass beat is a language everybody knows, though
one nobody speaks. Everybody drinks. There is one bar for the people
who began to drink when the bar opened at nine, and another bar for
people who think after clocking out is just fine. In the closest lake town,
overlooking the water, there’s a third bar for people who think (though
they’d never admit it) that a man who works as hard as he drinks will
never be good enough. Each bar is rough. Each bar is stuffed with men
who believe in their God-given right to raise Hell. Men who slouch
in their booths like watchful beasts. Women who know how to wrap
their bodies around a drumbeat, to wrap their bodies around a man
come the weekend, women who know how to wrap up a lunch to keep
it fresh, who know how to wrap a wire harness in ten seconds or less.
The men drink as if by drinking they can stretch time, the women
as if by drinking they can make the men kind. Both know it’s a losing
proposal, drive it out of their minds. The bathrooms see more coupling
than many marriage beds, the driving bodies frantic, filled with dread.
The driving beat, the women are like factories, as necessary and as loud,
and the men are always looking for another job, a new face in the crowd.


How did I come here? I followed a man.
A tanned, taut rope of a man. All my hope
on a man. Packed my bags and left home
without a ghost of a plan. Some man! Gone
now, the same way my mother ran. My mother,
who, one morning, packed her toothbrush and
a dull knife and everything she ever tried
to tell me, and followed a ghost of a man right
out of my life. My mother, who had a heart
like a catcher’s mitt. The one thing we had
in common was the desperate need to be
called wife. Mommy, too, maybe, but always
first: wife. I used to tell her what I’d never be,
which was generally anything she was. More
fool me! She last saw her mother get on a bus.
I’m different, though, now. I’m teaching my
daughter how to pick the right man. Sometimes,
when I trace the veins of her sleeping hand,
I can still hear my mother say: *darling,
we’re all cliches. A cliche is something
so true that every word you don’t say
needs at least three others*. Here’s a cliche:
The only thing we have in common
is everything: we both hoped I’d turn out
better than my mother.