©2020 by Canvas Literary Journal

Published by Cosmographia Books

Background art “Submerged” by Amelia Ao

Canvas logo by Ali Wrona

A Muddle of Words

Elle Cooper

Winter 2020


We sit on the back porch steps,

Scraped knees and blisters on our heels,

Scars sprinkled like constellations

On our hands. Airplanes shake the sky

Above us, cutting it apart with white trails,

And out of nowhere you tell me you hope

Those people up there can see us

Sitting, the heavy air clinging to our skin

As we stare up with desperate, searching eyes.

I shrug off the soft-voiced doubts, nodding

In agreement, because we’re both

Doomed to dream the impossible,

               We always have been.



Our mothers taught us to believe,

Dressing us in stiff-fitting clothes

And our shiniest shoes every Sunday,

The ones we would slip off underneath

The Sunday school tables while the teachers

Told us stories about fruit and floods

And falling from grace. Our mothers

Were the ones who taught us how to read,

Sitting next to us on the living room floor

As we stumbled over the roots of words.

They taught us how to snap them in half

Like twigs and look at each piece on its own

Before tying them back together again.

We still press our hands together and our eyes

Memorize the cracks in the floorboards as we pray,

We still cradle books against our chests and our lips

Mouth the words as we go along, because they taught

Us there’s a difference between faith

And ignorance. Told us to remember the world is built

On the backs of both. Remember you always have a choice.

Remember when the words get too difficult, snap them

In half. Look at each piece on its own.



I speak in prose. In long, rambling sentences.

In stories driven by conflict and catastrophe.

Let me tell you a secret:

              I think in poetry.

              In short, quick lines,

              Describing everything around

              Me, trying to find a deeper

              Meaning in meaningless things.

              My mind is a muddle of words,

              Words, words,

              So many I can’t keep track of them all,

              So many that I get distracted from the world

              Surrounding me.

The words on the paper smeared

As I wrote them down, inking the backs

Of my hands. Each poem carves itself

Into my mind, burning like liquid gold.



Can I tell you another secret?

It took me four cups of coffee

And two bottles of Snapple

To write this poem. I scratched away

Every stanza until all the papers underneath

Had imprints of the crossed-out lines.

I took a deep breath. I began again.



Another airplane slices the sky

Above us. I nod my head,

Letting myself fall into the idea

That we are more than skin and bones.

That we matter enough on this dry, cracked

Ground to matter enough to those people

Up in the air.

And yet—



There is a plane ride in the back of my mind,

My legs too small to reach the floor,

My attention held in the hands of the sky

Outside the window. The clouds tangle

Together, my stomach dips as the plane

Flies higher and higher, my fingers press

Against the window in breathless

Wonder. I never bothered looking down.

Not even once.

Elle Cooper is an eighth grader at Charleston County School of the Arts, where her focus is Creative Writing. She enjoys sarcastic comments and the shocked looks they leave on people’s faces. Her favorite candy is gummy bears, but only the clear ones. She writes too much poetry, and drinks so much coffee that her parents and English teacher are concerned.