Sara Tracey is an English Composition instructor at the University of Akron,
where she is also the poetry editor of The Akros Review and a student in
the NEOMFA. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Hobble Creek
Review, The Penguin Review and YACK. She is also the 2007 recipient of the
University of Akron's Sam Ella Dukes Prize in Poetry. Her blog is
We knew each other before broken hearts,
criminal records, aborted babies.
Before things mattered.
We sit with the shadows of shared past,
two little girls, two scrawny boys,
together when we learned telekinesis,
when holding hands made bellies twitch.
Tonight, we know to shiver and shake
takes more than cold water and tiny fish.
We wish for something so easy.
Beside me, my best friend of fifteen years
rolls her eyes at another cracked silence.
We don't need language for each other,
but for these boys now men,
we cannot find words to fill the holes.
We ask, Do you remember? We laugh, nod.
Yes, we remember wading in the creek.
We left our innocence in that water,
on the sandstone steps between banks.
Memories dwindle. We find new stories to share:
mothers without breasts,
hopes too fearsome to name.
Loath to let go, to admit some things
best remain where they were left,
in lockers and on the cafeteria floor,
we sit for hours seeking recognition,
pretend that when we meet again,
we will find ways to make silence whole.
He lived next to the Dollar Store in a house that used to be an asylum, a house that smelled like wet cats and ashtrays. Broken light bulbs on the coffee table. In his bedroom, I studied pictures of his girlfriend, fell asleep with a kitten on my chest. When I woke, he was watching. Twenty-four hours since we met and still he hadn't slept. Tight-eyed and languid. He wrote my number on the doorframe before I left, walking barefoot down cast-iron steps and across the gravel drive. My boots were in the backseat, still wet from the flood. How the water had risen the night before, the way the scent of burning pallets covered the damp. I didn't mean to drive him home. I didn't mean to come back. He was always in flannel. In denim. I loved his ditch-digger legs. His shoulders, the red freckles that covered his back like paint chips. The collar bone, broken and never set, that jutted against his skin. I knew the baby oil wasn't for me. At the Star, he played Elvis on the juke box. I drank vodka from a mason jar while learning to throw darts. Sat on split black leather, listening to stories about Oriana House and vans driven through living room walls. When he kissed me, it was beer and tin on his breath. Nights when he finally slept, I sat on the front porch and stared at the neon sign. In the morning, I walked to the store, still stiff from sleeping, and wandered the aisles, lingered near the Clorox just to smell something clean.
She must have struggled to define cancer,
to leave lymph nodes and malignancy
out of her speech. Instead, she told me
cancer is a bug that eats you from the inside out.
I couldn't look at Grandpa after that.
When I closed my eyes, termites
crawled in his veins.
The next time I saw those bugs,
they feasted on my father.
Insects swarmed a sickle-shaped incision,
sutures stretched and split.
He melted into the couch,
two-hundred and fifty pounds
turning to butter, losing shape
while he explored the empty space
where his kidney used to be.
Bile forgot the way to his liver,
found the coffee table instead,
burning through lips and polyurethane,
the color of antifreeze, but without
the candy-sweet smell.
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