It is April. Climbing roses crown headfirst through the soil,
ripening under my criss crossed legs without my permission.
The aroma of apricots hangs in the air like wet linens, tempting
the noses of churchgoing boys, but I refuse to let Georgia’s
thick heat crawl up my spine. I bury my face like a plum
in the picnic basket. Embed my irregular heart underground
where the dead things lie unbeating. Under a willow tree, two men
swap tongues. Their bodies knot together like garden snakes
unaware of my presence. They breathe from the same lungs.
From my picnic blanket, I count people in pairs. Pair myself
with the wind and blow in through someone’s back window.
I appear like a love letter sealed with hot wax
until peeled open. My skin smells like comfort food, so I let them
eat me. They draw me in and fold me like linens. Wear my hands
around their backs and scrub me until I am clean. I lie on the grass
with an empty picnic basket and count the churchgoing boys.
My partner doesn’t know how to count, and it is apparent
in the way his feet trail behind him like a stubborn child.
How his dress shoes, like knives, carve my toes each time we spin around.
He is a different partner. One who counts well and blends
into my dress made of red satin. I smother him in red—paint
his neck with lipstick and show off my legs when he asks
for a new partner. I meet one drenched in a blue suit. In tears,
he rocks to the music. Eyes wallow in my satin skin,
but I am not the one he wants. To be used is to dance with a man
being pulled. To ignore the tugs on his chest. A string puppet,
I rise for a new partner. Rest my wooden chin on another chest
until it rises to the moon where I once danced. Where I twirled
until I crashed onto the ballroom floor. Debutantes tripping
on my scattered pearls. On calloused feet, I limp to a new partner
made of stone. His hands leave cement on my shoulders, so I stand
cemented next to him. Next to me, he is a monument I fear
will come crashing. Come rushing like an avalanche into my arms.
I try to gather the shattered cement without carving my fingertips.
Longing for another piece of the monument, I brush myself off
for a new partner.
Hooves blow down the track so light as the gust of air that kisses
my neck. The man in my ear whispers—the remains of candy apple
still in his breath. I gnaw on his words like candy. Crave the crunch
of his cinnamon shell in my teeth. The thoroughbred kicks dust
to the breeze like cinnamon and gallops past me—body lifting
from the ground. His rider, lifting, yanks at the reigns. Feels the ground
when they land. Hooves buckling, saddle slapping the back of the thoroughbred.
Weak from the sun, I fan my powdered face and enjoy the pleasures
of the pure-blooded. Skin rich as caramel, groomed to be rich. To run
from the horses’ tongues flying, teeth grinding for my ribbon.
The man in my ear speaks a smooth tongue—listens for the downbeat
of my drum. His candy apple lips swollen with dollar bills. He wants
to be chased. To be loved by a marching band. The thoroughbred
reaches the finish line—tears through the ribbon. His heart pounding
against his ribs like drumsticks. His rider slaps him on the back. Runs his fingers
through the mane drenched in sweat and waves the medal in the air.
High to catch the spit of the horses’ tongues flying.
We throw him a party with red velvet cupcakes. Children flying
from swing sets like pterodactyls screeching through the backyard.
On the terrace, we sway, admiring our fruit swelling with age.
His cheeks coated in globs of red velvet icing—skin glazed in caramel.
He is four years older today. Cuts our hearts in fours as we watch
him grow older. We hang onto time, talons snagging
onto his cheeks, hoping to reverse the years fed piecemeal
to pterodactyls. Their mouths always hungry for halloween candy,
bubblegum, baby teeth. We swim through his old candy wrappers.
His letters are neverending papercuts opened
and reopened. Ruptured egg shells, his father and I are prehistoric
monuments not meant to survive the test of time. Aged
by butterfly kisses and children weeping. Their pretend sadness worn
like a fur coat. Like actors, we cater to their fake papercuts—
kiss their fingers when we are bleeding.
Athena Nassar is an Egyptian-American poet and essayist from Atlanta, Georgia. She is the winner of the 2020-2021 San Miguel Writers’ Conference Writing Contest and the recipient of the 2019 Scholastic National Gold Medal Portfolio Award among other honors. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Chattahoochee Review, Salt Hill, Lake Effect, Up the Staircase Quarterly, The McNeese Review, [PANK], Points in Case, DIALOGIST, Riggwelter, and elsewhere.