Mary Ardery

Portrait of Wilderness Rehab as The Things They Carried

Her very first letter from home, kept for months in the woods,

worn soft as a lucky handkerchief. A silver bracelet from her

mother, her favorite charm the leaping doe she worried between

her finger and thumb. A torn yellow butterfly wing in an empty

char tin. A picture of her son, four years old, PB & J in his hand.

Her dyed blonde hair with the darker roots growing in. A tattoo

on her wrist: one day at a time. The tear-smudged letter that said

he loved her but wanted a divorce. The Autobiography of Malcolm X.

A fat British novel. A cotton Nirvana t-shirt that was supposed

to stay at base camp because wet cotton’s no good in the woods.

The nose ring, tongue ring, belly ring, earrings she wore until a self-

harm Level Watch. The handwritten lyrics to her favorite Wilco

song. Pictures of both her pit bulls that her girlfriend emailed the

therapist to print. A hiking stick with her initials carved at the top.

Poplar bark braided into natural cordage, a necklace. A recipe her

mother sent for backcountry baked beans. The cold, distant note

from her father with a court summons folded inside like a Russian

nesting doll with a terrible secret. A clump of dry lichen saved as

alternate tinder for rainy days. Her thighs covered in scars gouged

deep from a butcher knife. A forbidden pack of gum. The track

marks on her arms. The letter from her sister she tore to shreds

but kept like delicate puzzle pieces she’d one day fit back together. 

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Mary Ardery is originally from Bloomington, IN. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Missouri Review’s “Poem of the Week,” Fairy Tale Review, Cincinnati Review’s “miCRo” series, Prairie Schooner, Salt Hill and elsewhere. She holds an MFA from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, where she won an Academy of American Poets Prize. You can visit her at maryardery.com.