When we played puppies, the game was mating
and we took turns being the boy. Sometimes
one of us stayed human: musher and sled dog.
You rode the tricycle and I pulled, a collar
around my neck. Once, down on all fours,
something sharp on the carpet pricked
my palm, but it was too late to grab a Band-Aid
and risk waking your parents. It was in your
new hot tub—the jet pressure—the first time
I felt pleasure. I had no name for it.
I just stayed in place. The steam kept rising,
chemicals that tickled my throat. Then
came the year we both bled early, before
the other girls. Still, we spooned in your bed
and woke to morning light full of bonhomie.
It streamed through the crystal in your window,
cast a small rainbow at the foot of the quilt.
Do you remember the first night you lodged
a pillow between us? Firmly, like a final decision.
Around the fire, a woman tells a story
that takes place deep in the woods
where she played as a child:
For days, a mountain lion stalked her
but she didn’t know until the moonless
night he slinked into her tent,
her sleeping bag.
The sound of a zipper slowly undone.
He promised he wouldn’t bite
if she didn’t scream—
She tells how his musky rough fur
rubbed her low hairless skin.
How he returned the next night
and the next.
How his whiskers scratched her neck
and even now
she scrapes her throat raw in her sleep.
She’d been told once you see a mountain lion,
you’re already dead—
so she knew what he snarled
in her ear must be true:
no one will believe you.
At first there are no words.
Damp kindling hisses
then voices flare up
like coals left smoldering,
sudden fire, light
and faces all around
who believe. Women
all around, too many who can say:
I know this story, too.
Keeping Our Dinner Reservation After The Doctor Refers My Sister To An Oncologist
From the bedroom comes the familiar clatter
of a cosmetics routine: my sister digging
through the small worlds of bright colors
to powder her face, rouge her cheeks. The wet
pumping of a mascara wand in its vial-like tube.
I wait on the couch and watch her vodka soda
sweat on the island where it’s been
abandoned, a foggy lip-mark on the rim
as if a ghost drank from her glass. Silence
follows the pop of a lipstick uncapped. I know
well the red ropes her lips will become.
When she floats through the doorway,
her perfume floods the air like a rosewater
rainstorm. She zips her purse closed, stays
standing, assumes now that she’s ready to go,
so am I. As always, she is dressed to kill.