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August 14, 2023 Poetry

3 Poems

Liz Robbins

3 Poems photo

Small Towns

run on it like gasoline. You can smell it
hanging in the First Baptist, the United
Methodist, the Circle K, the Jiffy Lube.
Fear. Gone for a second as I bite into
a gas-station hot dog, scratch off the ticket,
tune out a sermon about where we’re
headed. Gone on a Friday night as I head
to the high school, cheer the quarterback
as helmets crack, beer mugs toast, short-
skirted girls back-flip to hip-hop. On
Sundays, I glide out beyond the oak
doors of the church, scan signs propped
in yards: a dictator running for something,
from something, running to run things.
Fear makes me want to hand him the
reign, ha. Tonight I’ll pull on lace
stockings, pin them to the garters all
the johns love. I’ll open my laptop and
test the mic, zoom the lens. All us girls
now our own pimps, all gone online.
Lured by fear, power, or the evolution
of good tech, solid hard drives. And
who among us doesn’t love privacy?
Tomorrow, I’ll cover up my heart in
a dress strewn with poppies. Attend
the service at First Baptist because
I’m nothing if not superstitious, and
the songs remind me inside I’m pure
child. Small towns dotted with signs:
Jesus Loves You, Mister for President,
signs telling me what I really want is
my dead father back, telling me how
to be. But what can I do to avoid a hard
life? It is a hard life. In big cities, too.



The impulse to break. When I ran away at fourteen, I didn’t know
I was listening to an animal urge to find my own way, like all
teens. When I’m alone, I close my eyes to hear the trailer trucks

thrum by on the highway, one or two braking outside my motel.
I concentrate on their sounds so I can sleep, so I can get through
a man. I’ve tried to know what these married men want, their

lust to break like mine in reverse. They have a family, but want
something all their own. Maybe I remind them of a high school
crush they never got. A cheerleader, cartwheeling across a wet

field at night. A nurse bending over, sewing up a wound. All our
lives, we are left by people, and our work is to keep finding more.
I have friends. Cara sits with her long brown hair and nose ring,

steaming coffee in her mug, her mouth blowing cigarette smoke.
We complain about the johns, and in our likenesses, feel love for
each other, feel understood. If she’s had it worse one night, black

eye or bruises on her wrists where he held her down, I feel sad and
under that, lucky. I’ve had my share. And always I wonder when
Cara will leave me. Who will come next? There is no one

right way to walk through this life. Yet no one told me at fourteen
what I was really choosing to hold close was the squeal of brakes,
a sound of resistance, like hinges when a door slams shut.


Sex Worker

I. Margaret Atwood wrote men are afraid
women will laugh at them, women are afraid men will
kill them.

I’m not sure yet if men are afraid. I feel terror’s thrill
as I roll up a stocking. How such a small hole can
rip into ruin.

Not all of them burrowed animals emerging into night,
dark into dark, eager to consume,

II. Workman’s boots mean his money’s hard won.
Like mine. Hands built to manipulate

a slipped wire or smoking hood or sharpened ax.
The head needing to be both

focused and totally gone. The job more dangerous
than fishing Alaska’s icy seas

or felling redwoods. I get attacked once a month.
But going to the cops means I’ve turned

myself in. Instead, in red nails and heels, I turn
myself out—