SQUIRREL

On long line at the video store, my weekend
under my arm–Wait Until Dark, The Glass Menagerie
I want to hit him, want to throw her
into my car and drive her to piano or ballet,
where she might give her breasts a chance
to set in their mold, give the bone in her knees
a chance to fuse before the tugging at her soft
joints and sockets begins, the loosening.

Fourteen, tops, she’s the kind of pretty
they paste false lashes on and falsies,
splash over the cover of Cosmo;
the kind of creamy-pretty men love to spoil.

She’s leaning over the counter
where she almost works,
nodding yes to the much older boy,
man really, old enough to have tattoos,
to have fathered listless children,
who’s fidgeting in his Levis
like a corn worm tunneling in its damp husk.

Then she’s on the phone to her mother, saying
something about a movie, some other girls, someone’s
older sister driving,
safe as a ragdoll and the story floats.

A heat-driven dog off his leash,
he looks like he could spontaneously
combust, he’s so excited, like I could just
stand here behind him and blow gently,
coax him into totem-sized flames,
but I walk next-door to the Winn Dixie
for popcorn, cat food.

When I was fourteen, the kind of close,
angular pretty that casts sullen shadows,
the squirrels on Jekyll Island crept out of the trees
to nibble M&Ms from our anxious hands,
and one, hungry and tentative, followed us
into the condo and panicked, flew
circus circles around the room, bounding
wall-to-wall until it smashed into the glass door
and slid dead as wonder to the floor, a slight,
undone softness we buried in a box.

The same day, my father’s friend
pulled me by my ankles
to the bottom of the pool as if the plug
had been pulled, the water sucking me down,
and pressed his hand between my legs,
where my uncle had touched, years before
I’d begun to grow this new softer body, the great
effort and absolution of it,

and I pushed against him and the side of the pool
until, finally, I reached air,
though it had changed, the air, into something thin
and ragged, like something you’d keep in a shoebox,
so the way I breathe changed forever.

Outside, the boy’s candy blue Nova idles,
a trophy mounted to the parking lot,
a vinyl-sluiced altar to sooner.
A pack of his friends
lean sentry on the hood, smoking
like it takes a great talent,
the filling and emptying of their lungs,
like it’s something they deserve.

He nudges her in,
eases with feral concentration
into the seat beside her, slams the door,
and it feels as if he’s dragged
all the air in with him, the rare, damaged air,
leaving nothing between us but glass.

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