You and your nectarine smile:
Sweet, tipped, juicy, wild with hungry fruit flies
attracted to the sunshine setting in that puckered lip.
Me, a spider small enough to live within the window glint,
hunts with jealousy, lustily consuming the arms and legs and eyes.
So used to being web pupil that a mouth corner offers a banquet.
Web shirking, I could build a house there in the window’s crosshairs.
A teardrop’s more than enough to drown it,
the body—nerveless, threadless, working
black speck in lamplight, the warm citrus glow, tiny enough to dot an i.
And I could live within the space the light claims on your lower lip—
Red pleated, dew wet, stone fruit blush.
The body dilates, takes up space, and silhouettes the glint.
Begin again, again the miniscule intersection:
self with arachnid ache makes too many legs in unwelcome space.
Placeless, the wing-littered corner—
a lowered smirk, beneath the nectarine skin: a white burst clean as a bone.
A home? A mouth without a grin.
words from The Veteran Homeless Man,
stationed yet again. the exit stairs of the 42nd street
morning A train.
he don’t beg. his existence of coins in a steel calf.
blond hair. a corner den of receding stains laugh lines strumming the mold.
half-glance. keep movin’ up.
“you allllll better start smiling or I’ll shoot you with my guitar.”
The bride could see the groom standing under a tree by the altar. The half-naked branches stretched over him and the priest. Tanya took a deep breath of the crisp October air and waited for the line of blue bridesmaids to make it to the front.
“So, this is it?”
Tanya met Louis O’Neill back in college. He performed at her favorite bar with his band of scraping-by-to-earn-a-living brothers. She had been the girl dancing up front in her Hard-Rock Café T-shirt while they played Springsteen’s “Born to Run.” The boy at the microphone didn’t have Bruce’s rasp, but every word that burst from his mouth vibrated in her chest like deep wind chimes.
Tanya fiddled with her bouquet of roses and baby’s breath. She peeked back over her shoulder as her maid of honor fixed the chapel train. Looking back at the fan of flowery lace made her think of the foam in the Guinness she drank with Louis after his performance. He said he was gonna be as big as Springsteen. She laughed and said that no one listens to classics anymore. He gave her the finger and then pointed at her with it.
“You were about ready to throw your top off when we were done,” he said.
She loved that: how he could say “screw you” to the world. He explained that he went straight to work out of high school and took music lessons on the side. She shrugged and said yeah, she was going to a liberal arts college, but she decided to take as many classes in dead languages as possible.
“It’s just a past that’s so unreachable,” she had said. “You have it at your fingertips, but that’s it, and I want to bring it back.”
The piano stopped. The harp began to play. The music hypnotized Tanya’s feet and slowly moved them forward. The outdoor cathedral felt like the entrance to some otherworld with the fiery trees lighting up nonexistent walls. Time seemed to freeze. The wedding party stood in a fluid semi-circle around the altar decked with a goblet and a gold-plated book. Her train slithered four feet behind her.
Tanya’s heartbeat pulsed into her head as she blinked around at her friends and relatives. Her mother already had tears swimming in her eyes. Her father raised his brow ever so slightly. The smile on Tanya’s face began to feel heavy and pierce her cheeks.
What is my problem? she thought.
Louis looked so different in a suit compared to his leather jacket and jeans, and he had oiled back his dark curls. Tanya had to look down for a moment, pretending to blush. His eyes seemed to trace her whole body as if trying to absorb her for the first time.
I’ve only been preparing for this all year.
Really? It didn’t feel like there had been a year between his proposal and the ceremony. After Tanya presented the rock to her mother, everything felt like a swirl of colors that defied time and space.
Tanya kept her gaze downward and studied her dress. It used to be her mother’s. Strapless and smooth was the current in, but Tanya said yes to her mother’s off-the-shoulder, quarter sleeves and lace. The mermaid skirt flared around her calves, and the train sprawled out behind her. It was originally a six foot-long cathedral train, but Tanya said she’d never be able to drag all that baggage behind her.
The whispering train now reminded her of how much her family put into this wedding— the phone calls, the bills, the hall, the ceremony, the cake, the catering, the invitations, even the altering of this wedding dress.
It was never this hectic when we were just dating.
Gazing back over her shoulder at the train, she thought about what it was like dating Louis. He brought her to bars almost every Friday night to watch him perform. Something about how he sang made Tanya think of priests kissing an altar or ancient women dancing in the woods. He surprised her with adventures through New York City and the Met, the parking lot outside a Billy Joel concert in Baltimore, a few drive-in theatres, and the hiking trips in Jersey.
Was that it? Was everything changing that much? Just walking down the aisle, she felt an electric chill of entering some alternative universe where even her name would change. The train of the gown, which dragged reluctantly behind her, would be the only part of Tanya Atkins lagging behind, trying to leave some trace like a comet’s tail after the icy rock vanished. Then even the white tail would fade and become a memory of the memory of her.
She could see it now—the train became the christening gown for her first child, and a hand-me-down to her second, maybe even third. Then what? The white lace unfolded onto a polished dining room table. She and the kids would eat Thanksgiving turkey and Easter lamb while Louis chased after a stage-lit legacy from one airport to another.
What if he didn’t make it? Would there be room to put her study of ancient languages to use? She could feel her visions of translating the fading pages of ancient narratives crumble like the leaves under her feet. There wouldn’t be time to rewrite the pages of godly romance or wing-shoed adventures in her own voice when a teacher’s desk offered her a paycheck. The only papers under her fingertips became stacks of worksheets from eye-rolling 13-year-olds. She saw the possible pasts and futures flutter out of her reach because she was wound in Louis’ white bedsheets just as her skirt wrapped around her calves.
But then a wave rose from her shoulders to her sinuses when she imagined losing Louis’ dark eyes and velvety half-a-smile— the one made her feel like she was sinking into a jar of warm syrup.
Can’t this maybe wait a little longer?
She thought maybe she’d ask him about this once she reached the altar. That was until she looked up and saw a wide, unfamiliar grin on Louis’ face. It made her think of the wolf in fairytales. She felt a pit inside her chest that seemed to swallow her blood and leave the heart frozen mid-pump. She was more than halfway there—more than enough time for the train of her skirt to finally tug back on a pile of withered leaves. A small jolt ran through her body like a snake bite. Her smile faded, and her skirt constricted around her legs.
Louis frowned. He reached out his hand in case he’d have to catch her. Tanya’s cold feet sweated as the crowd stared at her with stony eyes. Her lips dried up and sealed together. The bouquet slipped from her hands. She gathered her skirt and whirled herself around. Her chapel train fluttered in the gray autumn air and rustled in the leaves like a ghost’s rags as she dashed into the woods nearby.
When she ran out of breath, she knelt under a naked tree. She could hear Louis’s slow, careful footsteps behind her. Her shoulders trembled as she coughed cold air and sobs.
“So, is this it?” he asked.
Tanya glanced over her shoulder. Louis stood at the edge of her train. She tugged her skirt closer around her.
“What’re we going to do when we’re married?” she asked.
Louis said he figured they would settle down. Tanya squeezed her eyes shut.
“I don’t want to settle down,” she said. “But I can’t give up my dreams for yours, and you can’t give up yours for mine.”
She heard Louis sigh. He walked behind the tree and sat with his back to it, so Tanya wouldn’t see him if she turned. He ran his hand through his hair and asked if she even wanted to marry him. Tanya had to admit everything she felt while walking down the aisle.
“We had such a good thing at our fingertips, but now everything’s changed,” she said. “I just want what we had back.”
“So what then? We go our separate ways?” Louis asked. “What if I don’t want to?”
Tanya glanced over her shoulder. She saw Louis’ legs peeking out, stretched along the ground.
“You’re always going to look back on this if we get married, aren’t you?”
Louis sighed and said yeah.
“So then how can we still get married?” she asked.
“We can wait then,” Louis said. “But can we at least go back and talk about everything there? Your mother was about ready to choke when she saw you run.”
He stood up and waited for her. Tanya shook her head. She let him help her up but then gently pulled away.
“You go first.”
Louis rubbed his forehead and walked on ahead. Tanya bent over and plucked the leaves from her skirt. When she looked up, Louis was looking back at her. She glanced over her shoulder, as if Louis from the bar would be lounging in one of the trees behind her with a Guinness and a song. There was nothing. She gazed down at her train and imagined herself disappearing like the icy rock with the white trail behind it.
Finger print smudges
tug at a seemingly smooth
surface, urging a cleaning
that leaves only streaks.
Grease pools collect
in creases, projecting
frown lines back out
of the frame.
Pluck a few hairs
from the corner of a brow.
Smooth down the puffy
and smoldering skin.
There are three jars on my dresser that I would like to explain:
One contains your pencil shavings.
One contains your paper frills.
One contains your dandruff.
I collect your pencil shavings very easily when you use the dinky little
that so often results in a floor full of pencil shavings. It is my civic duty
to collect these
because they came from your pencil and yours is the pencil of a great
mind— your great mind. These collected pencil shavings symbolize
your collected thoughts and ideas which you write on frilled spiral
And you leave your frills on your desk and on your floor when you tear
your paper out to hand it to our teacher. I see these frills and I know that it is my civic duty to collect them. And I must collect them because they come from your paper on which you use your pencil to record your great ideas from your great mind.
As for why I collect your dandruff, the answer is obvious:
It comes from on top of your head
and it is closer to your magnificent brain
than I will ever be.
I walk along the city streets along the River Lee. I swim through the flow of people on the pavement. Tunnel-visioned. I drift with the motion, only stopping at crosswalks. I let the gush of cars surge forward while pedestrians watch from the safety of the sidewalk and behind the simple yellow line for the exact transition time of thirty seconds. Through the city before the river, my eyes flick to either side, reading the passing bright, loud signs calling people away from the swell to their commercial interiors. They are only colors in this grey city on this threatening grey drizzling day. The familiar script and coffee logo that means warmth and rest calls out to my searching eyes, causing me to leave the stream of the crowd to cross a bridge over the river. A small net of tables lies outside with people stuck here and there, the bait of a pastry in front of them.
I sit waiting and watching with a cup of tea cooling in front of me. No sugar. No friend. Not singling out any face, watching and waiting for a story to feed the gluttonous eyes of the masses. Where better than the hive where they wait? I look to the people on the other side of the river, moving in tandem. A wave of ants. A line marching in two directions, neither forward nor back and all toward different destinations from this one path through the city by the river. The current swirls in different shades of dark and light with only the occasional bright color pushing its way through to catch my eye. A babble of voices talking to voices not really there joins the din of motors and footsteps and smog. Keys and coins declare their locations in pockets and purses while the air tries not to breathe in too deeply the smell of the night before, when the city was drunk and careless. The pattern of bees is constant and the steadfast motion of consistent commercialism lulls my watching eyes as I observe these city people. Predictable. Sustainable. Until.
A single ant breaks away, the line quickly swallowing the hole left behind. Unlike the few couples who sit hip to hip on the ledge above the river or the plump man who sits feeding pigeons and ducks, this rebellious city-dweller crosses over the dark stone barrier and slithers down to the sludgy bank where he stops. He stands, watching water as I watch him from safe from behind my cup of tea. My eyes stuck to this lost ant with no clear purpose, curious and critical of the one to break the established chemical path made by those that came before. With hands lost in baggy pockets and shoulders hunched, he stares at the current as I had stared at the people. They did not notice the stray person on the river who now sighed as if reserved to the motion of life.
As I look, he sheds his shell of burgundy and jean, placing it carefully into the mud, then forges into the drifting current of the river. Those still caught in the current of pavement above actively avert eyes. The sludge of the water engulfs the struggling ant as he floats, ignoring shifting gazes and grinning smugly at his cleverness. Looking up at the world, he flips in the water and catches my glance, wiggling with defiant superiority over the trapped city, burning from under a critical gaze while he splashes. It was not until a big blue officer sauntered to the bank with a flashing badge and a big stick, that the little lost ant quickly found reason to return to the line and the proper current. Paying for the cup of tea, I pack up my pen and notebook and return to the resurging swell.