(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
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
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
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
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.