When I was a girl, snail shells were magical,
especially once the snail was gone. No ooze
to contend with, those stalked eyes attenuating
and retracting inexplicably—just the shell,
unfraught by an inhabitant that would have
to be evicted before the treasure could be
displayed on a shelf. To remove the snail,
I’d have to put it where it could not live
and wait for it to die, which would make me
either a brute or a boy. I did not want to be
the former. I was ambivalent about the latter,
though it seemed to me their lives were more
interesting than mine, or at least the things
boy scouts did were more interesting than
anything we did in girl scouts, which seemed
like the most concrete way to assess how
boys and girls differed. That, and violence.
From what I could tell, if I were a boy,
I wouldn’t want a snail shell as a keepsake.
I’d just smash it with a rock to see the insides,
the hidden parts that manufactured slime.
If I were a boy, I’d want to see the muscle
of it, but instead, I wanted the pretty part.
Back then I didn’t know if there were boy
snails and girl snails. I’m not sure I even
thought about it. It turns out, there aren’t.
Or, there are, but they share one body.
Back then, I would have found this fact
both intriguing and encouraging, since I
wanted to collect pretty things, but maybe
not be one. I didn’t want to have to worry
about a hidden part of me that might make
a boy want to break me open or a pretty
part that might make a girl wish me dead.
When I was a kid,
the dogs ran free,
which is why
they kept dying.
My first heartbreak
was a dog that didn’t
come back. I remember
my father handing
my mother the empty collar.
This is how I learned
there are troubles so deep
you can’t climb out.
There are mistakes
you only make once,
and not because
Still, I could not
resist the urge to
chase down whatever
from the far side
So many close calls,
strange cars I climbed into
that could have turned
into a missing child poster,
an obituary—my body
found in a ditch.
Instead, the people who
pulled over when I flashed
my thumb all wanted
the same thing: to save me
from whomever might be
driving the next car.
They delivered me
home with a scolding
but otherwise intact,
more convinced than ever
of my own immortality,
more convinced than ever
that nothing bad was fast
enough to catch me.
Suzanne Langlois’s forthcoming chapbook “Bright Glint Gone” was the winner of the 2019 Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance chapbook award. Her poems have recently appeared in Menacing Hedge, The Whale Road Review, Cider Press Review, Rust + Moth, and The Maine Review. She holds a MFA from Warren Wilson College. She lives in Portland, Maine, where she teaches high school English.