The Hollow by Jennifer Clark

When she begs her husband not to carve a pumpkin this year, tells him she can’t bear any more unraveling in their lives, he says, We must free the things that overtake us.

As he carves a wide circle round the woody stem, she wilts over the sink, washing the same dish over and over. She tries not to think about last year, how the things they wished they’d said slipped out and charged the air, causing the eldest child to disappear.

He rests the knife on the table and lifts off the chunky lid. The children encircle their father as he scoops wet webs by the handful. Like tattered tinsel, orange remnants drizzle from his fingers and splatter over the thin membrane of day—the daily dead, the classifieds, the games people play, every bit of everything fading away.

When the father’s arms, sunk deep in the hollow, rise for the last time, the youngest leans in, exclaims, It’s a squirrel. A squirrel!

The mother uproots herself and, on shaky legs, runs to her children. Get back, she growls, a corsage of fear pinned to her heart, petals falling like bruises.

It’s okay, Mom, says the middle child. It’s just a squirrel. A baby one.

Lots of babies, giggles the youngest.

Even the mother watches now as the father’s hands, sunk deep in the hollow, rise, glistening, and rest a stringy nest on top of homes for sale, roofs leaking ink. Flat, blank faces stare up through the tangle. Eyes slick with shine, open, the kitchen screaming orange.

Jennifer Clark is the author of the full-length poetry collection, Necessary Clearings (Shabda Press). Her second poetry collection, Johnny Appleseed: The Slice and Times of John Chapman is forthcoming from Shabda Press. Her work has been published in failbetter, The Midwest Quarterly, Flyway, Nimrod, and Ecotone, among other places. She lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan.