There’s a lot that I want to do with this piece, but here is the first draft.
She had been chattering her teeth
for hours, twisting her fine hair
into knots too complicated for any
parent to release.
That’s what I wanted to tell the police.
I wanted to say we hadn’t let our eyes
off her the entire time, that she was
always a few skips ahead, exemplifying
the serenity of childhood.
I wanted to say that we had seen the end
of autumn and the beginning of winter
with her fingers around ours.
The trees are the only ones speaking.
They creak and sigh in their own language.
They have nothing to say to me.
I remember the pattern of her pulse, but not
the exact part of the path where we lost her.
The search continues through the afternoon,
and past dusk. A new frost hardens the snow,
makes the overgrowth sparkle, the ground
splinter and crack like old bones.
I stumble, head thick with aftershock,
heart closed up tight with shame.
In my head, I imagine that she’s made it
to the forest’s border, where farmed fields
touch the chaos of the forest. Where wolves
turn around and lope back the way they’d come.
I imagine that a farmer picked her up, has her
wrapped in sheepskin and drinking pan warmed milk.
I overhear one of the volunteers whisper
how beautiful and peaceful the white dark
of the forest is, how a little girl with cotton socks
and blonde hair would settle right in, like she
was a part of it from the very beginning.