Our half-drunk glasses of Cava
by the kitchen sink. Smashing stems
into the dust until my knuckles are bloodied.
Opening the cupboard for more ammo.
My roommate picking me up by the shards
a soaked towel at my temples.
Remembering the night we swallowed pills,
danced a city into the living room.
Singing show tunes the night
you said it, the only time.
Drawing concentric circles in Sharpie,
throwing magnets at my refrigerator
because we didn’t have darts.
Whispering—cold tile, 3 a.m.—
about your father’s beatings.
Teaching me to smoke
pot, to bend the flame with my inhale.
The words always rising in my throat,
Swallowing them & swallowing them.
Trying to forget, somehow
waking again in that cotton-
mouthed cackling of you.
I’ve been loved by good men.
I held you hostage
in my mother’s pantry, fed you
crumbs others left behind.
And now, finally a poem for you.
Does it taste like Sangiovese?
Can you feel my mouth
mispronounce the word?
I used to dream you’d find me
hanging like an Old Dutch Master,
Ophelia: masterpiece of distress.
I wanted you to meet me in my new body:
the dividing & separating
mingling of cells that have never before been
and will henceforth exist in past tense,
in midnight drunk texts and emails
Attached please find
13 nights we didn’t sleep.
Attached please find
the Conor Oberst concert at the pier,
the photograph we remembered to take.
A finger-on-the-trigger kind of town midway up the western coast
where truckers try their hand at dainty waitresses,
a choir girl with a waist like Farrah Fawcett—
the apple of her mother’s black eye.
In a Victorian mansion converted to an antique
shop, a Victrola turns like a lover’s worry.
The owner’s daughters follow me around like porcelain
dolls, five and seven, know where the prettiest dresses hang.
Alma, eighty, makes me a deal: the vintage mink, silk gown, cherry-
printed handkerchiefs. She names her price, unfurls the frock, says
I’m the only slip of a girl to pass through town the thing actually fits.
I wear my winnings, try them on in a bathroom with a dusty tub
rickety knob and a door that won’t shut, skip home in the dark
to my man, asleep in our motel room, mutt curled at his feet.
I peer down at his beautiful drooling face, his body an orchard
heavy on the bed with dumb love.
I think of saying, I bet so many girls loved you, you grew tired
of admiration, dreamed of dying some Chris McCandless death
amid the frigid and lonesome Alaskan outback.
Outside the wind rips through the canyons, moonlit hills tremble.
This memory belongs only to me, a baby in my belly we’ll call Eloise.
But I don’t say anything, strut around in a Jean Harlow dress
and no bra, wait for him to wake and take this slip of a girl
squealing into the thick and freezing air of night.
after Ross Gay
Because I love you, and the soil where an orange grove
once bloomed now holds the bones of something also beloved
I will tell you a story I shouldn’t, but must. In this story
a child names a rabbit banjo,
a child with purple knees and salty soil
beneath her fingernails. In fact, this child is hunting dinosaurs,
her jungle of curls loosening from a hot afternoon in her yard,
when the news of Banjo’s disappearance emerges.
And this child, palms and limbs red from picking weeds,
carefully avoids the needles of her mother’s roses but bleeds nonetheless,
and ascends the thorny slope of shrub and desert plant to find Banjo
and bring him softly into the pink air conditioned house.
And she carries under her arm a shoebox to store treasures,
a notebook for clues and a bundle of dandelions as stubbly as your beard, love.
And her search goes on as the afternoon grows tiredly into twilight
and she is called inside. And she unwinds the snaking green garden
hose to clean her soles crusted with dirt, and rests her cheek on a pillow
cold and fidgets in her princess bed and vows to bring Banjo home.
And I shouldn’t tell you, but I will, that many days pass and her promise
is forgotten for a hundred afternoons, until the child’s
father drives her home from school on the route they always take,
through the neighborhood, past the old orange grove and the mysterious circular ditch
whose vastness frightens her even now. And the father remembers a day
humid and ordinary that he held in his hands the ears of a lifeless rabbit
and swung him into the mouth of the crater. And the child, believing that Banjo
ran away, calls her father a liar. And he answers with a smack
that stings her tiny cheeks, he answers with a slap that rings
through the old pink house with its aching walls.
And with the blow still buzzing, the girl climbs the stairs
to her room, past her mother’s vacant stare and the barren walls
that once held photographs of her as a baby, thumbtacks protruding. And pollen
tickling the chimes in her throat, she sings a dirge to the beasts that lay
dead in the yard. She sings the empty walls of the old pink house.
She sings a month straight, cupping her palms over rabbit ears,
until the child resolves to run. And deep in the night while her father snores
and her mother lies dreamless beside him, she escapes
barefoot into still September air, following streetlights
past the old orange grove, the thump-thump of her footsteps muffling
the sound of her weeping all the way to the site of the ditch wide
and brimming with secrets. She was Banjo: held & swung,
knowledge choked, bruising fast like grocery store flowers.
But she returns to the house of sorrow, past the palms golden and green
moon glowing like a razor blade, carrying under her arm
a notebook for clues, which you will find on the nightstand
beside our queen bed, where I lay my head on a pillow cold
and nuzzle the prickle of your cheek in the sheets pulled tight
by your two good hands.
Jessica Abughattas is a Palestinian-American MFA candidate at Antioch University and Associate Managing Editor of Lunch Ticket. Her writing is published, or forthcoming, in THRUSH Poetry Journal, Drunk in a Midnight Choir, Roanoke Review, and elsewhere.