(Photo of Layla Lenhardt)



ItÕs All Yours


You were a river, mountain fed,

though you looked at me like you were starving.

For a moment, I held a bucket of you

in my bony hands, fingers laced, watertight.

We had just filled our noses

and I ran my fingers over the now white woodgrain.

I wanted to tell you then that lies could be beautiful 

if theyÕre told the right way.

I wanted to tell you how 

I once killed a man.

I wanted to tell you that the moon had fallen behind you

And never stood up.

Instead I filled my lungs quietly. 

That winter gave a brief ceasefire and we ate

ourselves alive.


When do we choose to stop?


If I wouldÕve stopped with the boy I kissed

on trampolines and against oak trees--the

boy who tasted like spearmint and taught

me how to smoke cigarettes--I wouldÕve 

never felt the ancient pain I unearthed.


Ten years later, on Christmas,

I lowered myself onto him in his new apartment

(he still tasted like spearmint, but I no longer smoked) 

and the next morning he whispered assurances.


I drove home slamming my hands 

against the steering wheel, trying to justify

what had happened and feeling guilty 

for not feeling guilty. I shouldÕve

stopped there. But then I wouldnÕt have cut

my teeth on growing up 


with the gap-toothed boy who broke

birdÕs necks. WeÕd lay on basement-berber 

and heÕd go down on me and make me

promise never to forget him.

I thought the boy who tasted like spearmint 

was just a pebble next to this new boulder of mine. 

Until the sweaters unraveled and I realized the gap-

toothed boy was tanned and smart

but terribly broken, making me a 

sheep to the slaughter of the many men after

who would end up cutting me

with their jagged shards.  






Mama always told me to never

pick up goose feathers, despite

their beauty. They carried diseases 

and in the end, theyÕd kill you,

slowly and gruelingly. But I couldnÕt

evade their draw. Much like the 

wetness of your lips or how 

you tongue-twisted me

like a cherry stem. So I

picked you up and I brought

you home and I slowly slipped

into a nonexistence under the 

tips of your fingers and the 

earthy death of your bones. 






ThereÕs a fever dream in me that keeps coming.

In a photograph she wore a black pencil skirt and you said,

ÒDonÕt worry, she wears a promise ring.Ó

All these women with their promise rings and pencil skirts

and virginities and love of god. Every woman was a virgin.

Blessed Art Though Amongst Women in Indianapolis with godly devotions

to promise rings.



In Omaha, in your hotel room, you whispered in her ear and she melted like

wax all over your bedsheets while I was in a mid-Atlantic city saving space.

When I think about it, it makes me want to taste the saltiness

of every single man whoÕs ever batted

an eyelash in my direction. I wanted to tell

the tinman that I had enough heart for the both of us.



In June, I was a Skeleton. Pansy seeds were burrowed

in my clavicle and in my kneecap and in the jammy gap

between my big and little toes. In June,

you were a botanist.



This time was no different,

we marched like refugees, bare feet stomping on cold

linoleum to my bedroom. On my back I carried the life

we once had. My former world fossilized like an insect in amber in the lies

youÕve told. My skirt a heap on the floor, the yellow

lighting refracting off your shoulder blades. Our bodies broken

into one dozen worries.



Between pursed lips you told me she moved to Peru. IÕm sure

she brought her virginity, her promise ring.

I told my sister I forgave you. I told anyone

who would listen until my tongue cells went dry and both

sides of my mouth were exhausted. The freckles on your back

shackled me to you. I wanted to tell

the scarecrow he can have the squishiest parts

of my ridgy brain.



Your father was an Indian giver, so I gave you a free pass

as I patiently watched the syncopation of your dogmatic breathing.

Forbidden fruit, you told me.

You had a sweet tooth for it.

Forbidden fruit, they tell me,

pairs well with the Lagavulin left over

from Easter.



Autumn came like a bill in the mail.

While the sun hung low like a pendant on the neck of a mother

and the birds had all left us,

I was opening the envelope.



WeÕd given life to something more than we had planned when

we pressed promises between us like finger prints in ink.

The crumpled white sheets in an Ohio apartment knew

of a motherhood

of which I was unaware.



At 7 weeks it's ears and teeth

At 5 itÕs heart, limbs, and eyes.

They put that on posters

to make you change

your mind



Eyes, limbs, heart.

How many times can a person ask if youÕre certain?

But I knew I was certain as IÕd pinch the translucent skin

between my thumb and index finger to stop the acid

from rising in my throat. Just like someone told me once,

just like I did three years before. IÕd like to tell the lion

he can have all of my courage.



Two weeks later, a warmth previously unknown, came

over me when the portly black butcher said,

ÒLay back and count from ten, this will only hurt a bit.Ó


© Layla Lenhardt


Bio:  Layla Lenhardt has never gotten sunburned because she accepted the sun into her heart as her savior long ago. She is founder and Editor-in-Chief of  1932 Quarterly. Her recent poetry has been featured in Brine, Third Wednesday, and Rag Queen Periodical to name a few. She currently lives in Indianapolis with her partner and three cats, with hopes of owning 30 more cats.