If I could explain your desert, I would—
the spines of your beard, your shoulder
as stone, the tuft of dried grass struggling
beneath it. I would roll the tumbleweed
across your chest, or disrupt it with my
fingers. Your abdomen is the silent side
of a long expanse of dune, and I would
cross it. I would leave my footprint
or sweep my hand to brush it out.
Something has skimmed across your sand:
pinnate leaf of foot, stem of tail.
I don’t have the languages for desert.
I might be the water from a cactus;
I might be unreliable and bitter. Maybe
I am a storm. I rage and roil and think
I make you different. You take in my relief,
vanish me into you. Or I am the stone
you hold in your mouth to stave off
thirst. Most days, I know, I am nothing
but gill and fin, with no stroke for
where you move best. I lie storm-tossed
where the tide cannot hope to reach.
This, too, goes—the last of the blue glasses
in the cupboard, the dining room rug,
the cigarette lighters, the towels.
The fishing nets and the buoys.
The mortar and the stones of the front steps.
The inkstain on the floorboards.
Even the spiders are husks. Even the broken
windows are missing the wind.
The salt remains in the air, in the always-
damp grass. The boulders in the yard
cannot be moved. The ocean stays,
in its way, although the water
is new, the wash you melted into
gone west towards the breachway with
most of the sand from the beach, until
everything here is thinned, like
you, everything knees of rounded
stones, elbows of burnished shells,
and even the shore has abandoned us
to rock and carapace, to shard and bone.
Now the problem is I didn’t dream
the skim of furrowed lines against
the thin skin of my mouth, didn’t
know I would recognize the scent
that lifted, faint and dusted. Or
the flutter of wings. Some years,
you know, the honey just doesn’t
come through—some years, the hive
can drink itself thin by March.
The problem with being stung
isn’t the pain—it’s the surprise. It is
alive and fragrant at the lip, it is buzz
and hustle, and then something wants
you run through enough to eviscerate
itself for the satisfaction. In this story,
I am not the bee or the mouth.
I am the hopeful thrumming. I am
always the breath before the strike.
Ruth Foley lives in Massachusetts, where she teaches English for Wheaton College. Her work appears in numerous web and print journals, including Antiphon, The Bellingham Review, The Louisville Review, and Nonbinary Review. Her chapbook Dear Turquoise is available from Dancing Girl Press. She serves as Managing Editor for Cider Press Review.