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2 Poems

Lisa Zerkle

My Son in the Sea

Somehow he knows he can breathe in both

water and air. See how he grows piscine,

dull on land, iridescent in the deep.

Delicate flesh of my blood and my bone.

How many bodies can this world hold?

Men want to examine where exactly

skin meets scale. You can’t have it both ways,

choose: man or fish? Not a man, say the men.

Don’t listen to them, sing the sirens,

preening their feathers (being as they are

part woman, part bird). What will the fish say?

Neptune, I’m counting on you in your pearl

and coral grotto, where distinctions are not

so brightly lit, where seahorses are not

horses, where starfish are not fish, but stars.

(first appeared, The Collagist: Issue 70, May 2015)

Xmas Cocktails, 1974

My mother slicked dates with cream cheese, spiraled each

in bacon, skewered flesh with plastic party picks—

those tiny swords I longed to brandish but am not

allowed to touch. There is a man, she says, wiping her hands

on her apron, who might tell you you’re pretty.

He might try to kiss you under the mistletoe hung

in the foyer. I should not show him my toys, my

room. She will be busy being the hostess.

Don’t eat the olives, she says. The olives

glisten in the dining room in a cut glass dish.

I slide my fingertips into their hollows and flash

my hand as if manicured in black. Five salty bites.

The doorbell’s dinging, and chattering smothers

the carols from the stereo. All these people

smoking on our sofas, cackling with their teeth.

My party dress is stiff and scratches. I tap my feet

like Shirley Temple but they’re sweaty and pinched

in lacy anklets and red patent Mary Janes.

I spin and spin until my crinolines lift

above my scabby knees. The room keeps lurching

long after I stop. The man has arrived. He’s all

dressed up in a three-piece suit, dark hair swept stiff.

He stands in the foyer, smiling wide. How pretty,

Princess, he says, and inquires about my dress: Does it spin?

Lisa Zerkle’s poems have appeared in Quartet, Heavy Feather Review, The Collagist, Nimrod, and storySouth, among others. She was the creator and curator of 4X4CLT, a public art and poetry series for Charlotte Lit. In January 2023, she was awarded an MFA in Poetry from Warren Wilson College.

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