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October 9, 2017 | Poetry

Paradise by the Dashboard Light

Kathryn Nuernberger

Paradise by the Dashboard Light photo

When I think of what I know about you
I think of the way mirrors in a dressing room
can do that trick with each other
that makes a single person go on forever.
I think of a private hole in the ground
where a kid drops an acorn and we don’t
expect to ever see it again. I think of how
I should see a therapist. Or maybe
get a CT scan, in case this feeling isn’t
a feeling, because really, it’s excessive,
don’t you think? I think of what I know
about you, which is to say, I think about
how small a day is and then I count them
on my fingers. Then I count down the years
to menopause while I’m at it. Then
I think about what it was like to be 16,
that stupid prom dress with the purple
sequins, not unlike the wedding dress
I grabbed off the rack because a costume
is a costume. I’m thinking about you
when I hear one of those rock anthems
on the electric guitar with the lyrics
about how great and tragic it is
to have sex in the back of a car and I
almost run my sedan with the empty
booster seat in back off the highway
I’m laughing and crying so hard at what
it was like to be a virgin dancing
to that song and when I think of what I know
about you, I remember my old best friend,
Amanda, under a strobe light shaking
her booty like someone who knows how
to be happy, then motioning with her finger
to get me on the dance floor. And sure,
I’m the kind of girl whose legs don’t work
right when it comes to getting off the bleachers –
I don’t think that has changed – but I love
watching her grab her boyfriend by the tie
in a cheesy choreographed way
and sing the words straight into his face
as loud as she can. “Will you make me
so happy for the rest of my life?
Will you take me away? Will you
make me your wife?” I think I love
growing up and knowing I’ll never again
have to pretend to be 16 and then I think
about how a 16-year-old would have
kissed you all night long and then
written a very silly song about it.
She would have believed all the words.

image: Tara Wray


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