From the Catalogue of Cruelty

Once, I slapped my sister with the back of my hand.

We were so small, but I wanted to know


how it felt: my hand raised high across

the opposite shoulder, slicing down like a trapeze.


Her face caught my hand. I’d slapped her in our

yellow room with circus animals


on the curtains. I don’t remember

how it felt. I was a rough child.


I said No. I said These are my things.

I was speaking, usually, of my socks:


white, athletic, thin and already gray

on the bottom, never where I left them.


I was speaking of my fists raining down

on my brother’s back. My sister’s. Socks.


In the fourth grade, in California,

I kicked Charles in the testicles. At that school,


we played sock ball: hit the red playground ball

with the sides of our hands and ran the bases.


I kicked Charles with the top of my foot, caught him

in the hinge of ankle. I wanted to see


what would happen. I didn’t believe

anything could hurt like it did on TV.


Charles folded in half at the crease of his waist.

My god, I was a rough child, but I believed


Charles, that my foot turned him to paper.

Later, I kicked my dad the same way,


but he did not crumple. It was summer

in Arkansas. What humidity,


these children, full of water. I hit him

also with the frying pan. I hit him


also with the guitar. We laughed later:

Where had the guitar come from? My dad


was a star collapsing. The first thing

a dying star does is swell, swallows


whatever is near. He tried to take us

into his body, which was the house


the police entered. This is how I knew

he was dying. I’d called the police.


What is your name? He tried to put us through

the walls of the house the police entered,


which was his body. What is your name?

Compromised: the integrity of a body


contracting. What is your name, sir? He answered:

Cronos. He answered: I’m hungry. He answered:


A god long dead. He threw up all his children

right there on the carpet. After all,


we were so small, the children. The thing

about a star collapsing is that it knows


neither that it is a star nor in collapse.

Everything is stardust, everything essential.


What is your name? Everything is resisting

arrest. Its gravity crushes the children


and the cruiser’s rear passenger window.

The officer didn’t know the star’s name.


White dwarf? Black hole? To see: throw the collapsing

star face first into anything. Face first


into the back seat. Face first into the pepper

spray. Face first onto the precinct lawn.


Did you know you could throw a star? Do you

understand gravity, its weaknesses?


You are in my house. You should already

know my name.

Bibliographical info

Donika Kelly's "From the Catalogue of Cruelty" from The Renunciations. Copyright © 2021 Donika Kelly. Used with permission from Graywolf Press. All rights reserved.

Start here: