His letters must be read backwards in the mirror,
the sheets of rice paper Alice folds carefully
in a drawer so her father will not find them.
The Reverend offers an invitation: come to my room to see
the photographs. The girls in confirmation gowns lower their eyes
and blow their kisses to the camera.
These are the girls who do not know about danger,
the girls he meets in railway stations, in church,
at the seashore where he catches them alone.
He writes letters in his fairy script to be read
in secret with a magnifying glass.
These girls are learning his own language.
Once upon a time there were three sisters
and a basket of biscuits and ginger beer and croquet on the sand
with a man who asks them to sit for a photograph.
On the surface of the lake the boat drifts, directionless,
beside the bank where other children play kiss-in-the-ring.
You are a different kind of child, the Reverend Dodgson says.
The earth will open for one of the three,
taking her down the long hall to another world.
Listen, there are three sisters. This is not the story.
In church I pray for the sins of the fathers
visited over and over again upon the daughters.
God took back all the bad daughters on Ash Wednesday,
led them into his body, through the path of his throat.
One by one, they obediently followed into his heart.
These girls entered God completely.
Tell us a story, Our Father. Teach us to fear.
In our language kept secret from the others
we spoke to each other, sitting in the stairwell
of the public library, knees touching as he turned
the pages of the book of photographs in my lap.
We studied the statues of women with broken faces.
He pushed his tongue against my teeth, trying
to enter my throat. I wanted that panic, his hands
breaking into my body as the earth opened to receive me.
In the other kingdom Alice learns the daughter’s first lesson.
Bright star, sad one, sitting on the wooden slats
of the rowboat beside the man who says he loves you.
Pray to be your sisters, the unlucky, unchosen children.
In bed we were drifting
through the walls of the house. We floated out over the sidewalk.
The bed ran on wheels pushed by the wind along the street,
past the shuttered houses, dark, their eyes closed to us.
This was danger, I believed, and I dreamed
of the man from childhood on the library stairs.
I had turned into a liar.
When I reached for him he had nothing to tell me.
Calling your name from the bridge, I circle the lake
with the jar of ashes. Remember the priest’s fingers dragging
the ash over our skin? You see, we are the girls
with the mark in the middle of our foreheads.
In the boat we lay mouth to mouth. He breathed me in.
I could not think of coming back.
Alice, I want to warn you. Alice.
Enter that water like a knife.