by Kenan Ince
She wore a white tunic top
where sugar skulls danced around
twin magnetic poles, white breasts
oozing out of white bra, shin-length
tie-dye skirt swirling as she laughed.
On our first date she spilled stories
of her rape and masochism.
For lack of anything to say
I drew our initials in hearts
on her inner wrist and we groped
our way through Chekov’s
“Three Sisters” and after curtain
she asked me to be her boyfriend.
“Where can we make out?”
she said then, both our roommates
somehow in on a Friday night,
so we hiked to my Camry
in the parking lot, pulled up
the front seats, and climbed behind.
We stayed in her bed
the whole next day. That evening,
she propped her bare feet
on one of the clothes piles
carpeting her room. She held her wine
in one hand and badly.
Her skirted legs lay open
the way a sea urchin spreads
its spines in the rocking safety
of reef and somehow
I feel nothing. But lust simmered
in the way her tongue moved
in her mouth as she spoke
and we marinated in each other’s
flavor until we could no longer stand
to not merge together.
Until then, we talked.
What is feminism? I asked her one day
as she finished her painting
“In Celebration of Curves”.
She told me how a caveman
dreamt a grid into the earth,
then walked a straight-line path
dragging a stick to divide
his new fields from his kinsmen’s.
Before the man died, fat
and young, he planted a tree
in his wife’s body. Its xylem siphoned
her strength until it grew so large
that all men built homes
in its branches. She told me
how we still eat its fruit,
growing fat on its sap
while underground Woman still lives,
her mouth open, gasping in growing
awareness of pain. That sounds bad,
I said. Then you’re a feminist! she said.
I wanted evidence, so she pulled out
a mirror so I could see
the way I grew patriarchy
like a parasitic moss on the underside
of my skin. Show me more,
I said, so with pick and trowel
she drew cores from the trunk
so I could see the women and slaves
trapped in ash beneath the volcano
of the American Revolution,
leaving Washington’s men free
to paint their own past on top.
What is sex-positivity? I asked Slaine
as she rinsed her Bullet in the sink
and set her dildo on a towel
to dry. She said when the woman
who still lies impaled in the roots
of the tree hears a woman moan
she comes violently and shakes the leaves
and the branches, and for a moment
she forgets her body is not
her own because it belongs
to all who hear her come
and come with her. Wouldn’t it be better
to just pull out the roots, I asked,
treat the disease and not the symptoms?
Congratulations, she said. You’re a radical.
One of my best friends was raped
the night before my and Slaine’s first date
and she told no one but Slaine
in the throbbing whiteness
of the dorm laundry machines.
What is violation? I asked Slaine when I
found out, nine months later, and she said
I would never understand.
What is the Industrial Revolution? I asked,
buried in biochemistry notes
on her papasan chair.
Slaine told me how men grew greedier
and raised powers from the dark earth
to make the tree grow faster,
altering her DNA to make her fork
branches to infinity and coat them
with a sheet of steel,
how the xylem that fed us all
was refitted with cogs.
How the last of the woman’s beauty
faded into her ashen face
panting with overexertion.
And everywhere the ashes fell.
I wanted to tell her about Carl Sagan,
about the deep ocean of space
and the vast space of ocean,
about the fluid tango, step and counter-step
of water molecules in a soap solution.
I wanted to tell her how Hox genes
regulate symmetry, how in nature
a mutation grows legs on a fly’s head,
the papery barriers that separate us
from what’s outside. And I stared
at her face pulled taut, something metallic
in the story she told,
and I could not speak.
Lupus should be lupine,
immediate and deadly, not
this slow sapping of her
feeling of her sternum
tearing open. I want to break
open my chest
and pull you inside,
we used to say in bed
in a half-daze. Love
is a body and hers
and she would not listen
to the doctors
who said her mind
was telling her body
to hurt itself.
Her sternum grew
brittle and would not
bend to let me in.
She turned to needles
her skin and open
to the world. I thought she should
close up, take
long-term sales goals,
What is neoliberalism? I asked Slaine
as we sliced open a pomegranate,
separated seeds into a bowl
on her kitchen floor.
It’s the way your eyes flicker
to your watch when we’re together, she said.
It’s the way when you’re in a rush
you pierce my mouth with your tongue
like a jockey digging in his spurs.
I didn’t ask
about alternative medicine.
I thought I knew.
So she didn’t tell me
when the worst pain
she’d ever imagined
rang through her lymph.
She was a bell:
open, attuned, resounding
the agony that lies
dormant like the crocus
in everyone’s blood until
we are ready to bloom, all of us
Slaine wanted to hunt for ghosts.
She and her roommate packed
flashlights and a tape recorder
to catch EVPs. Sometimes
the mind can feel things that aren’t there,
I told her. You’re not invited, she said.
I miss you, I said. So we drove
with the sunset in our left eyes
past fields and meth houses
to a rusted one-lane bridge
over the Red River.
We walked across the bridge in silence,
flattened ourselves against the rails
as headlights neared. After a while
the dark was complete, the only sound
the baseline roar of locusts and night
birds’ siren cries. Back home, we played
the tape. No ghost voices. Just the cars
passing and the silence we had made.
You’re going through a bad breakup, and pint upon pint of Ben & Jerry’s just isn’t cutting it this time. Choose a method of handling a broken heart:
I should break my nose on a stranger’s fist to remind me, even at my age, some things heal.
In darkened theatres I split violent & open wide this sick-sweet bag of treats.
Renounce the hungry pull of muscle and blood.