BETSY HOUSTEN – “The Wrong Drawer”


I’m fourteen –
three miles from the river, where fast wild waters
drown people yearly trying
to outswim the current – I’m putting away my father’s
smallest laundry when I see it in a drawer, a gun,
lying like a queen on a bright green cloth.

I turn to the bed. Put down the clothes.
The just-clean briefs­–thirteen or fourteen
pairs – are stiff from the line, crimson, plum, gun-
metal grey. Hankies like river water,
dark blue and darker blue. These are things my father
uses daily, wears on his person. I’m trying

to remember where the underwear goes. I try
the other drawers, open each while the green cloth
glows like the pelt of a pool table – father
forgive me for rifling through your things – squint into fourteen
tiny houses that slide in and out, smooth as water,
make no sound. It’s summer. Nobody home. The gun’s

got an eye on the end of its snout, the immobile impossible gleaming gun
in my house, the place I live, it’s looking at me. Try,
touch, it says. Its voice a dry crack. River water
roars from out the window, rushing fast wild fast, clothing
the air in sucking damp hum. Fourteen,
fourteen, do you– father –

wear this on your person, father
does mother know, does gun
know – what will fourteen
find me trying,
whose clothes –

the cold river with my body, my darkest water
not unlike yours, cloak of blue handkerchiefs, what fathers
own, what daughters steal. Clothes.
Drawers. Guns.
What have you thought, what have you tried –
o tell me how to survive fourteen ­–

fast wild water wild, I’m talking this fourteen
and after, father try,
the cloth’s so soft, like a baby blanket, under our gun.


Betsy Housten is a Pushcart-nominated queer writer and massage therapist. Her work appears in Burning House Press, Memoir Mixtapes, Longleaf Review, Glassworks Magazine, Little Red Tarot, and NILVX. Jersey-born and Brooklyn-bred, she currently lives in New Orleans, where she is pursuing her MFA in poetry. You can find her online at

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