By: Jessica Zhao

At the age of five
Mary has built herself a retreat
A box made out of her father’s rusty carving knife
(which was quickly confiscated)
And a soggy line up of cardboard
She found while digging through the trash

At the age of six
She is told to speak up and to not be afraid
Of making mistakes
Instead she gives her box a tidy
Talks to her tiny paper dolls
And wonders if anyone would notice
If she was gone

At the age of eight
She has given up on talking
Running, playing, laughing
Smiled only once on photo day
(the picture turned out horrible
she threw it in the trash)
She goes to art class but sits there
Only to envy her teacher’s extensive collection
Of cardboard boxes and she wonders if he would notice
If she took one home for herself

At the age of ten
She cuts her hair with a pair of garden shears
And realizes she doesn’t know what she’s doing
The next day her mother sighs and takes her to the barber
She digs up her old box and tumbles inside
This time, she remembers
to poke holes so she can breathe
But as a shaft of light shines through
She wonders (and wonders and wonders)
If the outside is as dark and murky
As she remembered it to be

At the age of twelve
Her box is beginning to cramp
She feels sick and dizzy from
Monday to Friday and wonders if maybe
Just maybe it was time to get out
It would be brief she promises to herself and opens one shaft
(Very very carefully) until the other one
Is forced open much more suddenly
Than she would have wanted
At first she loses balance, trips and lands in darkness
Falling, sinking, drowning,
until she opens her eyes
Feels the newfound wind against her hair, the sun bathing her body
And floats