At first, the grief was bare, an unsheathed sword,
its presence sharp. But then it turned, slowly,
into a faded tattoo on a hidden part of my body.
I tried calling your phone last night.
I don’t know what I expected, but I was scared.
When I’m dripping in too much darkness,
that same profound, welling of sadness finds me.
It appears in the strangest places; in the back
of my throat, at the roots of my heart. These moments
are punctuated by the smell of oolong tea, memories
of getting drunk off Blue Wave Vodka at Brian’s house, hiding
from the cops in your car. But you’re gone, you’ll never read this.
When I found out, I ate an edible and laid on my couch for 20 hours,
trying to wrap my mind around it, but it was just you,
swallowing lemons seeds, presenting your empty mouth,
tongue drawn out toward me, the pride you had in that moment,
the laughs that filled our empty stomachs, the crows feet on your
face when you smiled, like footprints in the snow.
If only I was older, wiser
than gapped tooth, golden haired
twenty-two, I wouldn’t have wondered,
what whiskered man is this?
His hair like a peppered moth,
he sat stubbing cigarette butts
into the ancient ruins of the bar
ash tray. There was a familiarity
in the corner creases of his brown eyes.
I could smell the paste and chemicals
of the yellow-glossed paper of
textbooks, I could feel the dull
cuts on my index finger.
Then all at once, I remembered. Him,
younger, fuller faced, unburdened by
the history of public education,
teaching life science to 7th graders.
My memory of how he once stood
tall at the blackboard, now mocked
the curvature of his spine over his
beer glass. I made my move.
We talked about David Byrne and what
bones I’ve been digging up the past
nine years, what wood he’s been cutting.
All the whike, his tongue was a metronome counting
measures he’d take.
His garage had a tennis ball on a string,
a warning, a one-way telephone, a pendulum
swaying, magnetic compass, living on an iron mine.
We listened to the song The Weight,
we smoked, I took my inhaler. I
wanted to fill my gaps with IPAs
and I crossed my fingers that I’d stay whole.
But how could I leave? My mouth was filled
with moon stones and marbles, my chest
was filled with bees. I unfurled unwillingly
on his corduroy couch.
Oh come on, you’re not tired.
He was a meme, he was a joke, yellowed
by the Walmart light fixture in his townhome.
He flipped me over while I swallowed the blood
from my lips. I didn’t open my mouth again,
so it wasn’t his fault. That night I’d lost a lot
more than the button on my skirt, than that twenty
dirty dollars at the bar. But I was a shell, floating
weightless in flattery’s ocean, I didn’t realize
that gravity was the school of hard knocks I’d
attend in my nightmares for the next ten years.
Is consent just a story we tell ourselves on the drive home
with a white knuckled grip on the steering wheel? On Alvernia
Street, the oak trees held their arms above their head in surrender
as I passed. I felt them judging me as I lit a joint and drove on,
as if the past was just an etch a sketch that could be erased.
Layla Lenhardt is Editor in Chief of 1932 Quarterly. She has been most recently published in Poetry Quarterly, Pennsylvania Literary Journal, The Opiate, The Charleston Anvil, and Scars. Her forthcoming Poetry Book, These Ghosts are Mine is due for publication this fall. She currently resides in Indianapolis.