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Four Poems photo

Why a Woman Burns

The barista on the sidewalk
strikes a match, smoke
flows from her fingers.

A moth-gray man walks by.
He fears the burning woman
he calls a stupid cunt

And I’m sorry for the baby
passing in its padded machine
who will gather these moments

like twisted black crayons
to draw the borders of its body
who will bloat on the milk

of violence, suck the bitter sugar
of the world that makes a woman
brittle, dry enough to kindle.


When they blame feet for their call(o)us

refuse to shamble down
the gravel rut they call a path.

Tear the stripes from the flag
loop them from the rafters like streamers.

Dance all night in Sappho’s taffeta.

Stomp the barn floor with boots
you ripped the straps off yourself.

Be a moon. Get drunk
on your own shine. Never ever work
to glow. Take it from the sun.

Be a sun-tongued, honey-lip girl,
string fangs around your neck like pearls.

Sit down, rest when you’re tired.

Stand up, when they try to hand you
a cleaver by the blade, tell you it's a butter knife,
tell you there's justice and other lies.

Let your lips loose in the forest to run.

Peel the nylons from your thighs.

Steal every pleasure and give it all
to a woman until her eyes roll
so far back she sees tomorrow.

The only work you need to do is the work
of getting free. It doesn’t pay in coin.
Don’t care.

You’re giving birth to the sky,
all this air is space for us to breathe


This Isn’t Holy but It's All I Have

The wind-up tin toys march to their desks,
sweat into felt. Their hair goes the color of their mother’s

but this morning I wear gloves of light
cicadas in my veins, onion paper skin
what I touch is golden and there isn’t much time.

I have no choice but to bleed like this
because someone must tell hair that the breeze exists
because the mountain of blazers, silk blouses,
crumpled coffee cups would bury them.

There’s a red gash in everyone’s chest.
All this blood someone must teach to sing.

I dig for what mercy I can gather in the field
two armfuls of buttercups, I place them here for you.
Their scent in your midnight bedroom
like all the love you’ve waited for.

Hurry, tomorrow’s ashen face is at your door.
Hold out your hands, two tiny suns,
you’re more golden than they ever told you.


The Visible Spectrum

We make out in my grandma’s old Buick,
her button down, half buttoned down.

I’m trying to stop looking so straight.

Chop my hair so short my stepdad hates it. 

The strangers walking by the fogged window
know more about me than my father.

At home, I search Etsy for rainbows. 

Inventory my flannel. Wonder how I got like this,
so greedy. I’d dip my fingers into

any pot of gold which is to say any body
is wantable. Any button worth slipping through
any buttonhole like an eye, trying to see itself.

In the car, I come out to my grandma.

She says she didn’t really need to know.
But I did. Need her to know

how I’ll be telling this secret forever,
lipsticking it onto mirrors, spitting it at men in bars. 

Something about wearing mascara
means windows can only steam
when there’s a man inside, breathing.

But the men on that street know better,
glimpsed my lips on her neck and then

me, fingering the windshield clean,
winking off into the clear eye of the night.


image: Tara Wray