My New Jersey purse:
A cassette containing hits by Expose, Miami Sound Machine, Enya, and that boy on the couch who smoked
My Indiana purse:
North Dining Hall card
Matchbook containing the embryo of a drinking problem
My New York purse:
Pack of Marlboro Lights and a Zippo
Matte brown lipstick
An invitation to loneliness, printed in charcoal Art Deco font on cream card stock
My Illinois purse:
Two face masks
Burger King coupons
My daughter’s high school track meet schedule
A Chinese take-out fortune: “Look how far you’ve come.”
My figure drawing professor approached me after class and asked if I’d model for her. It would take just an hour, she said, and I’d be be fully clothed. She needed women for her “vices” series. She said I had an interesting face.
I arrived at the appointed time in a white t-shirt and shorts, and met the other model. She was dark-haired, like me, with a face I wanted to fall asleep beside.
Decades later, somewhere in the world, she and I are hanging in a hall or rolled up in a closet together, in a work entitled “Jealousy.”
I like my body when it walks in the backyard.
I like my body when it stands next to its daughter, who is taller than it.
I like my body when it gets tattooed or pierced.
I like my body when it grows hair on its legs.
I like my body when heat blooms in its chest.
I like my body when it has orgasms.
I like my body when it hears music.
I like my body when it is resting, sleeping, dreaming, waking.
I like my body when its mouth waters.
I like my body when its mouth speaks.
Italy was filled with new old things.
I had strange money in my pocket; words made of arching syllables and round vowels were being spoken in my voice. The square was made of stainless steel and cobblestone. We had wine with our working lunches in the cafeteria.
I felt like an explorer.
There was so much I didn’t know. Like how you were supposed to carry your passport everywhere. Like how you shouldn’t use large bills. Like how not to let the boss, an ancient and ailing man, get too close.
I never told anyone. And I never went back.
Rana is a tiny, blond eight-year-old with persistently bruised knees and a lisp. After church, we sat in a Sunday school classroom coloring cardboard Easter eggs with markers. We talked about her favorite book, how unfair it was that her brother went to the dinosaur museum, and what she wished she could have for supper.
“Ice cream!” she shouted.
A murky memory surfaced of myself at her age, lighting our gas oven with a wooden match.
I studied her hands with their fragile fingers streaked with Spring colors, thinking: give her all the markers. All the museums. All the sweets.
My family began a “Things We Are Grateful For!” list, and stuck it to the refrigerator. We add to it anything we wish, without judgment or questions.
The entries are what you’d expect: our (now deceased) dog, the friendly woman, Valerie, who works at Taco Bell, cream horns from Stan’s Bakery, and the authors who’ve written our favorite books.
I’ve got my own gratitude list that I won’t hang up. On it is solitude. Sleeping alone. Single-serve wine bottles in a handy carrying case. On it is kissing. Singing harmony to the radio. My body, though changing, still feels bliss.
But I do know that creature,
Asleep in the field beyond the fence.
It’s easier to turn my back.
Why should I look directly at it,
Search for its liquid iron mouth, or its accusing brown eye?
I’ll stay on the bank, hoping it doesn’t
Slither through the grass and
Pull me down by my ankle,
Or prowl on selfish red paws
Close enough to pounce on my shoulder.
That would be our miscarried conversation,
Violent, wordless, ferocious.
She lived in me until she didn’t, and now she’s
Out there, unburied,
A scent my dog can catch on the wind.
There is a particular spot on the east bank of the pond.
When we reach it we stop, stand, consider
The neighboring field, over the fence,
Butting up to the timber.
My dog is especially solemn.
It’s a serious business, this.
Smells are tendrils on the wind, and he
Brings his nose up to meet them,
Parsing with a long neck and square chest.
I would try it too, if I were built that way,
But as it is, I’m fine not knowing
What creatures walk and eat and die there,
Who haunts the trees and hides among the grasses.
When I was ten, I practically lived at my best friend’s house. She had an attic bedroom with three big windows, and a blue parakeet in a cage she’d cover at night.
I told my parents I wanted a parakeet, too. We’d had to give away our dog, who’d bite everyone who wasn’t my mom, and cats were out of the question.
My dad said no. He thought I was just copying my friend, which was probably correct. But when I look back, I can so easily see that our house was no place for the innocent energy of animals.
It’s perfectly normal that she’s on the balcony,
Topless, three floors up,
She does a back bend over the railing,
Wine-stained smile to the night sky.
“Sincerely,” I say. “Are you listening?”
Of course she isn’t.
I’m not sure she ever did.
In the smoke I am set aside, categorized, dismissed.
The picture I take of this moment
Is developed at a pharmacy, later, back home.
Her breasts in an envelope with
The Bateaux-Mouches and The Bastille.
The landlord is concerned we won’t pay our rent,
But there won’t ever be a drug as potent as her skin.