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Underfoot

My home perm and pubescent oil-slick skin,
razor-burned legs and sour August sweat
that teen deodorant doesn’t mask—

none of this deters you from approaching
me in the crowd. You feign a stumble
graceful as a swan dive, convincing me
I tripped over your shoes

and you, a man in an immaculate
button-down shirt, grasp my arms
to steady me, smiling at my stammer
and begging my pardon.

Can you discern how grateful I am
to be handled gently? Maybe you smell
the still-raw wound my middle school crush
inflicted by telling me you’re nice
but you’re ugly as hell.

When your hand slides down my back,
when you draw me into an embrace
and cup my ass

I freeze, sucking in a lungful of cologne
until you release me and stride away
so fast you don’t hear me say
to the empty space you filled
just a second before:

I’m sorry.

Eve in the Blood

I.

You can find her name archived
in the county courthouse among
North Carolina bastardy bonds—
my second great-grandmother listed
as an unwed woman with child.

II.

Officials issue a warrant and she appears
before the justice of the peace. Someone must
insure this child she carries, must make certain
it does not become a burden on the state.

III.

I imagine her defiant, and then I imagine
her terrified while identifying the father;
withholding his name risks a jail sentence.
He pays half the bond and her brother
takes care of the balance, a reluctant knight
throwing away good money on kin.

IV.

She leaves (is driven from?) the hollow
and slips unnoticed through decades, existing
but at what price? Slim pickings indeed
for tainted fruit. The rest of her life,
a footnote. One hundred years dead
and she still bears a scarlet brand.

V.

In my mind, her face is a cobblestone mosaic
of my features, of my mother’s and her mother’s.
With bits of her mitochondrial DNA woven
through my cells, familiar shame and want
wage an ongoing battle in organelle mazes.

Confines

Light dissipates into the unmarked graves
of my ancestors littering these hills;
it needles through Christmas tree farms
approaching harvest, and between teeth

I cannot unclench (another medication
side effect), mingling with the scream
caught in my throat, hooked on my tonsils.

Our car enters a well-known highway death trap
frequented by eighteen-wheelers and fog. For miles,
we follow a truck carting hogs to slaughter.

I see their fattened bodies through metal slats—
crammed cargo with standing room only.
A single ear, tender-belly pink, emerges
from a ventilation hole and flaps in the wind,

a flag of surrender slowly burning,
offered to the open air.

Who Among Us

Early mornings,
a young woman visits our subdivision
and hangs cardboard signs on utility poles:
messages printed in girlish penmanship,
a heart dotting every i.

Most of us haven’t caught sight of her,
but my neighbor did, said she’s a stranger
to these parts, maybe from the college.

Her handmade notes bear the lyrics
of an old Eagles song. On my drive to work,
I scan the words and find myself humming
“Desperado” for the rest of the day.

Speculation is a struck match:
surely these memos serve as a code
for the woman’s secret lover, a married man?

Wives around here are edgy
when their husbands come home late;
they shorten matrimonial leashes,
tighten the collars.

One of these men must be sweating
as he spots each new message endowed
with a double meaning only he
and the woman can know.

The instantly recognizable lyrics
now read more like veiled threats
as the woman’s radius grows smaller:
her signs are survey pins designed
to hem a man in.

Soon we will know his street.

Soon we will know his name.