Crossing Rape Woods

by Kirsten Holt

Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Summer 2012.
I’d hated almost all of Pennsylvania

but Wilkes-Barre
was the worst.

Wilkes-Barre, whose name can’t manage to spell itself
phonetically, with its gutted hotels and empty strip malls that refuse
to leave the city square, it’s delinquent students carrying brown paper bags
like gospels to church, buildings that even ivy
doesn’t want to take over. Wilkes-Barre
with its hundred thousand storybook-shaped spiders
webbing every iron lattice space
on Market Street
the lampposts
the questionably-sound train bridge.

I’d never seen so many spiders in one place
and I’m a country girl, horse-county-raised.
Here, my foal legs were spread too wide across
railroad ties, wobbling like a train was approaching
the Levee Trail. I shook too much to drink
so my Steel Reserve warmed in my gloved hands
while Dana, my traveling partner, my guide,
made small talk with a homeless man,
shared her beer with him, stretched her legs
across the bridge in the spiderdark
and spoke about home.

The Susquehanna was a muddy excuse for a river that summer.
This place couldn’t even get water right.

But with the train schedule blocking the direct path out of this godforsaken
Temple of Doom, we had to walk back through Kirby Park
and Dana told me about the rapes
that gave the trails their nickname.

I became sick at the smell of soil, full of dead girls, lean-to’s
peeked out of the woods, flashes of sheet metal and
cardboard houses. Without guilt, we questioned who lived
in this place, their sketch artist profiles filling our shared
imaginations, and we debated the image we’d create, two girls
one flashlight to guide us back to the
van. Better not. When we lost the light to dusk we stopped
talking, grateful that the day’s rains had made the leaves lose their
crunch. The lightning bugs turned on
and we followed them back through the woods.

I was Alice in the wrong Wonderland, wondering
if those dead girls would keep us safe, or begrudge us our voices,
how they could carry,
how we won’t linger in these woods, how they only exist
in soggy missing posters.

They dared to taste the forest dark, and we walk along
the ink of their names composting into the earth.

Kirsten Holt received her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Central Florida in 2013. Her chapbook of poetry, Overwintered, is available from Yellowjacket Press. Recent work can be found in Orion, The Fairytale Review, and The Louisville Review. She has worked as the managing editor for The Florida Review and Sweet: A Literary Confection. Kirsten currently teaches at Valencia College in Orlando, FL, where she lives with a mountaineer and two questionably-pleasant cats.

Artwork by: Daniel Ignacio

Daniel Ignacio is a digital artist from Toronto. He creates surreal landscapes and painterly environments. Daniel’s artistic style and themes are heavily influenced by science fiction, fantasy, minimalism, urbanism, and some aspects of the Impressionist style.

Twitter: @dkaism
Instagram: @dkaism