“Les Vendanges” — Natalie Martell

In front of us is a laundromat: empty
like a sterile womb,
a single counter in the center, a facade
made of wallpaper patterned like bricks.
Its corners peeling,
revealing the jaundiced wall beneath.
The rumble of the idle car echoes
off the white concrete walls: a skin
that conjoins it to the convenience store.
A rectangle patch hangs,
lighter than the rest: a piece
of used gum crawling
into the frame. I stare
into the shadow chasm past
my windshield—the glass
coated, grimy with dead bugs and dirt.
The building’s right side ablaze, fluorescent,
its ribs stacked high with boxes
of Coke and Bud Light and ice.
But this side, the side we sit in front of, is dark—
the lights wheeze on and off, a cloud
of gnats circling it as if it were a dead thing.
I do not say a word, listen
to the scrape of tires as they roll into the space
next to mine. Stare
at the silhouettes within the cab,
pretend their histories into existence.
They make eye-contact then hide their faces
as they shamble into the store.
There is a mother still in her PJs,
with a messy bun that flops flaccidly
against the side of her face;
her white-knuckles grip the hand of a little girl
dressed like Dora the Explorer.
A bell rings as the doors swing wide. I want
them to pretend for me, see my history. I begin
to shake as you talk about the future,
as if it were something
set in stone,
only a chisel could shape
into a sculpture worth looking at.
The tar that lies in pools in the parking lot
looks like coffee stains left by faulty paper cups.
I ask to go home before you wrestle
with the gears, kick them into reverse, and pull out
of the space.

Your driveway is long like a runner’s track,
sits parallel to your neighbor’s, runs on
into an abandoned golf course overgrown
with weeds and tall grass.
Your neighbor’s drive ends politely at the beginning
of a white picket fence. We sit between
the two sentinel houses. A porch light burns,
illuminates the branches
of an oak tree: its long-reaching fingers caress
the gutter of the house. Again,
I do not say a word. Watch,
as the cloud of gnats bat against the light.
You start again
your talk about the future, a voice
with rocks in it. There is a cadence
to your speech, like a build up
to a fine-tuned orchestra;
my own cymbal a dissonant note
in a sea of strings. You look straight
at me—
your features caught by the garish light—
an arm that passes over my chest and neck,
and touch the glass.
Do you see it? you ask.
Do you see it? Do you see it? Do you see it?
I look at the tip of your finger that leaves
a print on the immaculate window.
There’s a possum over there.
Right next to the house, beneath that bush.
Do you see it? you ask.
Yes, I see it, I whisper and stare
at the bush with squat branches, faint leaves,
struggling against the wires
that prop it up.

Sex Ed

My friends’ trainers don’t come in neon shades
but flesh cameos the color of dried leaves
or a conservative black that pokes through
the gauzy white veils of their blouses.
When I go home I ask my mom
what training bras are for.
She takes me to my father’s study,
sets me on the leather La-Z-Boy—
the scent: sweat and cigarettes and dust.
She gives the talk, tells me this:
When a girl starts to bud, she becomes
a woman.
I file this away, think: I don’t like
flowers. I like toads, earthworms—muddy
I sneak into the bathroom, hide from
Mom and Dad. Lift my shirt, look in
the mirror at the small darts on my chest,
two baby-rump swells. Pinch the skin
till it turns blue. Call through
the keyhole for my brother to come in.
We’re always together like this:
mismatched Velcro. Growing up
we’d alternate between
Hot Wheels and My Little Pony—
decide that we would both tie
in every race. When playing
make-believe I was the prince
who’d gallop to his rescue, save him
from an invisible web.
There’s a picture of us
lying on the floor with our heads
together like conjoined twins—
black hair: a nexus of thin fibers
between us.
We used to take baths together,
but now a wooden screen blocks him out.
Mom never explained
the separation. But I
have seen it before:
hanging between his legs,
a silk cocoon.
He plays outside now, in the sun—
climbs to the top of orchard trees and eats
their fruit, lets the juice dribble
down his chin and stain his clothes.
Plays hopscotch in our father’s tracks
while I stand in the garden
at mother’s heels.
A little plot of land, perfect square
with white picket fencing,
crowds around us as she works.
The paint is flaking in places
with several rotten pieces
of wood lying in the grass.
The chill in the ground creeps
into my feet as Mom plucks leafy greens
from the soil, throws them in a bin.
I weave through the rows, plant
my toes into the mud, remember
what it feels like—see a flower blooming.
It grows under a curtain-shroud
of long weeds, fat lassos that stroke
its stem and edge it towards the fence,
hide it behind their fluffy chests.
I hover over it, look into its cup, then
pull the flower-bud from the ground:
a ripe bulb dangles in front of my face—
yellow daffodil within my fist.

We Were Young

The day I found that pink, lacy underwear
in your drawer changed everything.
We’d sit together, while I drew crooked
lines above your eyelids and pick out a dress

that you’d try on before you’d change everything;
then we’d start again, because the colors didn’t match.
The other day you visited, sat across the oak table,
and I couldn’t seem to breathe from all the talking

as I started again to try to match your words
with the picture above my desk of all of us
sitting on the porch of our white house while I fed
you Cheerios by the fistful, some sticking

to your face. I have many memories of us all
in my head—strange Picassos. Our history as key
to help pick through the bones for oracle beads,
like when I got lice and you sat for a week

just combing through my head for strange things.
The comb that did the digging had missing teeth,
but we’d sit on that cream bathroom tile for hours
in nothing but our underwear, nude, flesh colored—

the only pink in our mouths where we had missing teeth.
We used to share a room with twin bunk-beds,
and we’d alternate between the two, sometimes ditch
them altogether and make a nest on the floor,

and there’s room enough to share now, except
I only see you on weekends, cloaked in city
smog—its lights still twinkling in your eyes.
You admire the dust that coats everything

as if it is the only thing that you can see before
you leave: my shadow cornered. I breathe
in the smell of your wine-flavored perfume, trying
to manage the stacks of writings that sit

under your shadow, and I can’t breathe
from all the talking, as I try to fill the empty
space next to me.