This week in the PEN Poetry Series, PEN America features a poem by Nina Puro. 

When she left,

was she a runaway, pregnant, kidnapped, hospitalized, a refugee, to return or not, partially or fully; addled by chemicals that’d swarmed in her body or that she’d shunted in; because of a boy or another girl or her uncle; was she sent away, did she want to go; did someone pay a price, a dowry or insurance premium or ticket—or if money also went missing, how much; or was the payment waiting for her on the other end; was she alone; did someone take her (is it someone she knew), was a person or a place paid to take her; what’d they carry and was it inside or outside their bodies—if outside the body what was inside the parcel and how much did it cost; was it made of plastic or metal or cloth, who carried the container and did it leave her side and did someone search it for contraband— or were they waiting, drumming fingers or clicking snaggle-teeth to a bottle ‘til they could knife open the hidden seam like a neck; was something smuggled across a border (was her body the container); was there a gun or a desert or a dorm room, was there a secret room or compartment, a cell or hotel or hospital room; was she given an address or key (which side of the lock was she on); did the map make sense or was she trying to smell where she was through a blindfold or was she following herself as a moving dot on a screen, was there a river or highway or series of fences to swim through, a horse or boat or pickup; did they apply, did she apply; was it a form or contest or handshake or just somewhere she fell, did she want to fall into something; was she told what she’d do and was it true; was there a man at a desk or in a basement or at a cafe or on a phone deciding, did the smoke of his cigar blow in her face or did she never see his, just his signature or a structure he’d opened with his voice; were there many rooms or just a forest floor, was there a thicket to cut or a clearing that someone else had made, long ago; was there a shaft of sunlight and at what angle, was she told to sit in the clearing, then told something to gather or draw or think about or burn (did she burn sticks or bridges or cigarettes or papers); was she discussed at a wooden table and what was on and under the table, what were the people sitting around the table drinking; was her face veiled or disguised or made up, how much longer did her hair grow while she was gone and was that growth kept or sheared off and why; did her face appear in posters later, was it marked missing or with a crime and a number; or was it printed on a plastic ID card with a name; was the name hers, what power did it grant her; or was it just a photograph on a screen or paper someone kept in their pocket to rub under their thumb, whose thumb was it (was it hers years later); did she know someone took it, did she want them to; if on a screen did anyone access it or did it evaporate into millions of others, a sea of zeroes and ones; or was it projected onto a bigger screen; was the photograph how she was paid, if so did she ever see it and was she clothed in it or were the clothes or the room what was sold; did someone remove or add something to her, were her limbs arranged in the photograph or contorted and splayed, was one part that her body had grown or one part of her body missing—was this removal the evidence, the crime; or was this removal something that was done afterwards by someone else to erase some flawed part of her by clicking at light; was her face moving or talking, were the words her own; was it because she was missing or because of something else; if moving how grainy, was it from a surveillance camera or a phone or a video camera; would it be played again or duplicated onto other products made of cotton or plastic; would people paint her, would the paintings be any good; would they get tattoos of her, would she have hoped someone would; what would their letters say; would they follow her; would they have known it was her face where she came from; where’d she walk, did she learn to walk differently, faster or sexier or quieter or with shackles or heels or carrying cocktails (her own singly or a tray); or a child (her own or someone else’s), to balance a hula hoop or a bundle on her head; would she learn to run for pleasure, or when someone called, or away from something crashing and panting behind her; was she buried in the forest or doing the digging and do we know where, was where a lie, is it marked, are there bones there still or were they removed; is someone sifting for the splinters—or does she look at the bones of her face in the glass in the morning and vow they’re from someone she’ll never go back to; will she come back or was she missing on purpose; what do they send her, what does she send them—if money, does one party ask for an amount or is as much as can be sent sent; how did she make it and is how she made it what she tells them; what currency is changed to what other, what do the faces on the bills see, what container were the bills collected in or were they sent by wires, whose voice was on the wire or was it just numbers; will they send for her, will she come back to visit or for good, back because she couldn’t afford it or because she finally made enough to come back; will they have to pay a second time, to retrieve her or to give her to a man; will she be welcome (how will they tell her she is or is not); will her arrival be photographed, will she come back with the marked absence of someone or with someone else; will she come back to someone to wed (will she have met them); what will they make her to eat when she comes back, what did she eat in the other place and did she choose it and how—was it cooked in a microwave or vat or over a fire, did she speak to who made it and did they speak the same language; what will she come back wearing and how did it change; how did she change, how did they change; do they miss her in the old place, are they still looking for her, how are they looking and how hard; do they think sometimes they see some hard-whittled angle of her some place she is not, was she spotted somewhere; how many places were there between, does she remember their names, are there places she’ll never talk about; how often does she call to talk, to come back was she given a number to dial or did she know it by heart; was her body given a name or price or case number or ticket number (was she told it), did she choose it; how much of all this does she think she chose; did she want to go, did she find what she was looking for, was it the same as she thought it would be; what does she have to tell them about it, and how long is she staying?

Once a week, the PEN Poetry Series publishes work by emerging and established writers from coast to coast. Subscribe to the PEN Poetry Series mailing list and have poems delivered to your e-mail as soon as they are published (no spam, no news, just poems).