Did I leave everything behind for you? Was that reckless, or generous? At work I referred to you by initials. Bragged that you packed my lunch, vegetable wedged beside a feather of meat. You trashed both heels of a loaf the way I discard top and bottom pages of a paper ream before I drop it into the copier’s abyss. At dinner you stripped all three of your shirts until you were a chest and a plate. I slipped one layer into my bag, stashed it in my bottom desk drawer beneath an armpit of tangled rubber bands. On a museum trip without you, I refused to view any artifacts. Wrote your initials on my palm with the ticket-takers highlighter. Something about the Titanic, the S.S. Eastland disaster, Our Lady of the Angels fire. I looked at faces in newspaper clippings but they were bystanders, rescuers, not the ones lost. The last night we met on a bridge I knew I would always remember gazing down. Later I danced in a basement nightclub until my shins bled. Two of the three opal flecks on my ring came loose. Rolled into corners of the dance floor with stray sequins and cigarette ash. I imagined they entered your eye, then shrapneled their way into my body. All lost things still there. A muffin dropped in the road, crushed into a disc under bus tires. My beaded import sweater turned thatch of string and glass in the wash.
EVERYONE HAS A COUNTDOWN TICKER THAT ALSO RUNS IN REVERSE
Everyone believed the city would devour the movie’s protagonist raw, but she was completely fine. Whoever stood behind her on the subway thought only of pear-scented shampoo or the way she closed her eyes sipping tea. She was tempted to drop her keys into the sewer but did not. Instead carried a heap of legal papers for the reference librarian who wore a rubber fingertip. Presented plum-stained pants to her seamstress neighbor, with a home-baked lemon pound cake. Everyone expected the maelstrom of autumn leaves to stop following her as soon as she fell in love. Ethereal folk ballad playing as she sat on a train station bench. Too many books to lug without a little pain. Her beloved wasted on well drinks uptown in a bar that never closed. But oak leaves swirled around her even in the tub, where they popped the bubbles or nestled at the ends of her hair. Everyone waited for her heart to snap like a cheap plastic wristwatch. Guessed the clerk at the convenience store would be the last to see her alive. Presumed a storm would roll in as soon as she spread her blanket in the park. But she deposited her check the day that it arrived. Trimmed the hems of tarragon in her window pot. Clicked off her own lamp every night.
EVERYONE HAS A SO-CALLED DIRTY JOB
I changed in the shadow behind a sign advertising Italian beef. Tumbled a few seconds of gin into a Sprite. Double-knotted black ribbons at the ends of my braids. Changed in the transient hotel shower behind a rubber curtain. Collapsed my raincoat into a pocket-sized bag. Stepped to the bar, asked for cherries in a glass of ice. Changed from one pair of boots (fleece-lined) to another pair of boots (silk-lined) as neon pinked the curb. Looked at the skyline as I swooped eyeliner into wings. Changed into and out of a receptionist wrap dress. Pulled on red velour leggings, an unironic auto shop cap. Fake wedding ring that looked real six feet away. Changed on the northbound shoreline express. Blasted past the hospital’s fluorescent scream. Emptied my purse onto a nearby seat: two lipsticks, a sleeve of mints. Changed into a strapless bra in the tunnel before the lights clicked on. Detected a stranger’s cologne on my coffee cup lid. Flipped a laminated map onto its back.
Photo by Jack Cole on Unsplash.
Mary Biddinger’s newest poetry collection is Department of Elegy (Black Lawrence Press, 2022). Her poems have recently been published in Bennington Review, Crazyhorse, Couplet Poetry, and Pithead Chapel, among others. Flash fiction has appeared in Always Crashing, DIAGRAM, Gone Lawn, On the Seawall, and West Trestle Review. She teaches at the University of Akron and in the NEOMFA program and edits the Akron Series in Poetry for the University of Akron Press.