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To The Girl Named Tompkins, Tommi For Short:

You always complained of migraines. Now, I’m trying to decide if

                                                 I’m sorry for not having sympathy for you.

The vice principal of our middle school left Harry Potter candy on your desk
every day for a month after your dad died. I thought it was unfair,
because I was tired of hearing about it. 

                                                 Tommi, you barely knew your dad, though—

you told me that day in the bathroom when you’d gotten your period before
any of the rest of us. You carried a purse full of tampons like a hall monitor sash,
calling me a child and insisting that everyone hated me for accidentally killing
the science class hamster,

                                                  for which I am sorry the most.


A Short History Of My Accent

Far from home, the cashier looks at my ID—
flimsy plastic reflecting music
note holograms in the florescent light—

Tennessee, huh? Where’s your accent?


The steam of creamed corn and pork chops
threads through the thick cigarette smoke
in my grandmother’s house. Unwritten
post-meal rules and me
hiding in the laundry room.

Her arthritic voice holding history
down so deep, I’ll never be brave
enough to ask her why
she always talks so rough
or why she doesn’t like to leave
her house.

She screeches through the humidity:
Girl, your ears burnin?
Rake them dishes out.


Running all your words together
atrophies the jaw—at birth, the hinge
below the ear is soft, and it stays
soft in the slur.

When I was young, home was all
that buttery skin on the bone—
couldn’t picture the skeleton
underneath ballooning guts
and calloused farm feet.

They call them farms, still—
their five-row gardens:

Paulette’s got some corn
and toemadas comin’ in.
Bring some groshrie sacks.


For a long time, I was afraid
to learn what I didn’t know.
I listened to the lush music
of wide and bony mouths
humming histories
of their languages like hymns. 

The professor said, Stretch your mouth,
as if each word takes every muscle in your face.
As if you are not scared of mispronouncing. 


I did not know my mastoid or stylo-hyoideus
until I saw breasts that were not mine—
until Proverbs was ecstatically echoing
in my throat, my mouth all over her:

For the lips of an immoral woman are as sweet as honey,
and her mouth is smoother than oil.

I had questions and didn’t ask any. 

Inhaling her sticky pheromones, I bit into her
hyoglossus— left small earthly sounds in her muscle.


My father asks if I’ll be home at a decent hour:

Yes. Yes, what? Yessir.

That’s right—you better watch that mouth.


image: Aaron Burch