Silk black panties cover
his stem of purple azaleas,
his yellow hummer beak.
He comes at me down
this street. Neighbor’s
children in angel wings
don’t visit my hedged yard.
Maybe the white sheet
hung in the pine scares them
away from the dark treat,
chocolate. I’m alone
but the dwarf is here.
His milk-can legs
pound in the mud.
His two blue pegs raise
my window sash. Dwarf—
my dense breathing fear—
each year forces me. He comes
threatening me into bed
with his yellow protection.
He presses my legs apart,
comes at me from behind,
disappears inside my dark,
my rotting vegetable place.
I push, try hard to expel his body,
but inside with his obsession,
he grows like white bacteria.
He turns me sideways, empties me,
and his testicles’ Play Dough stench
leaves me with a shrunken heart.
II. A Man
Shut your mouth, you say.
You blindfold my eyes
and then my teeth: black scarf.
Outside a cat calls into the season.
Costume, you say. Surprise.
The lantern glow in my eyes
is fifteen new suns.
My face is damp with spit.
In my hands your testicles
feel like small breasts.
Your naked skin shivers
under my crawling fingertips.
I imagine breaking you under my thumbs.
Tonight things turn around.
Two men fight in the street.
Boiled cabbage stinks
from a nearby window.
One man feels a sound
against his jaw like leaves
ripped fresh from a stalk.
A woman walks out. Black hair,
she’s dressed like Doris Day.
The blue wheel of her skirt
floats like a ghost to the men.
She’s been cooking them stew,
fish heads, squid, and leek.
This pot of hot stew splashes,
boiled face, against the ground.
IV. A Woman
All of a sudden I look up,
and it’s dark like any night,
just our house with the lights on.
You take your shirt off to me,
woman with a ghost’s flat chest.
Outside children soap these windows.
The glass breaks, a white fist
like the Cocteau film’s candelabra,
an arm flashing its red life—
before this open hand came in,
did you know they could see us
on the bed hips to hands?
Watch now, the child’s white
streak against the yards.
V. The Jack-O’-Lantern
Two thin women walk across the street.
Dark out, they can’t see me watching.
They stop under the streetlight
and I see her laughing.
A car passes by, leaves a pumpkin
smashed in the street. There’s music,
a bar. I’m watching. That woman’s fingers
spread like a candle’s light,
open then close in her hair.
She turns my direction with a face full
of too many white teeth. They touch
again. My throat tightens into a rope.
Spread thin across this distance,
all my words are weak string, unraveling.
VI. Devil’s Night
Fires are burning in Detroit.
Whole neighborhoods there
go up in the Devil’s cigarette smoke.
White paint on the cement buildings
peels back and flies.
The windows’ spit glass melts
orange and dangerous onto the streets.
Here, in our city, we have one lit candle.
We don’t take the night seriously:
we watch the child’s Ouija board.
Our fingers shake. We have never held hands.
Our fingers touch like minor car accidents:
sudden, unintentional, harmless.
Your fingers are empty shotgun shells.
Inside my breasts white ashes build up.
The Devil’s smoke drifts into love’s shape: bloody
feathers of a crushed gray wing on the street.
This is a reprint of work originally published in Watching the Contortionists.
Laura Lee Washburn is the Director of Creative Writing at Pittsburg State University in Kansas, and the author of This Good Warm Place: 10th Anniversary Expanded Edition (March Street) and Watching the Contortionists (Palanquin Chapbook Prize). Her poetry has appeared in such journals as Cavalier Literary Couture, The Carolina Quarterly, Ninth Letter, The Sun, Red Rock Review, and Valparaiso Poetry Review. Born in Virginia Beach, Virginia, she has also lived and worked in Arizona and Missouri. She is married to the writer Roland Sodowsky, and is one of the founders and the Co-President of the Board of SEK Women Helping Women.