Despy Boutris

Ars Poetica

I don’t know how
to describe the color
of the sky. I don’t feel safe

anywhere—not even at home.
So I build a shelter
out of maple leaves

& wayward twigs, held
together with sticky summer
air. & the ladybug

looks happy in my home
furnished with a bed
of grass

& honeysuckle.
Yes, I’m living vicariously
through a beetle,

but I like it here: I can pretend
I have wings & can fly away
from this torn-up town.

Know I’m ready to leave
as soon as the quake strikes
& the framed photographs

fall from the walls, hitting
the hardwood, glass shattering—
falling, with us, apart.

I remember our family
history: see the holes
the photos hide—the places

the plaster caves in
like jack-o-lanterns
by Thanksgiving. See the places

my father’s fists hit, missing
my mother’s head
by mere inches. Remember

the shouts, her folded face.
Yes, I know the secrets
behind our smiles. & I need hope

for a new home—
so I spend my days building
homesteads for bugs, big enough

to fit the whole family.
& then I’m giving them names,
inventing their love

stories. & then I’m writing
those stories down. & then
I’m writing my stories down.



Summer’s Lessons

That summer, we were grateful to be
us. We rode our bikes
around town, swam in the lake,
squeezed lemon juice on our hair

& massaged our skin with olive oil.
Like fruit, our bodies ripened in the sun,
sweetening with summer sweat
& the juice that dribbled down

our bikinied bodies from the peaches
blushing red as our cheeks
as we dissed boys during Truth
or Dare—the nights we forfeited sleep

in favor of painting our nails red
& pilfering our mothers’ heels for fashion
shows, pretending we were older
than we were. We were girls.

& we wanted to be women, wanted
to grow our missing parts, please. Still,
we played baseball with the boys
at the park & ran screeching

from the barking hound & the sound
of gunshots after getting caught stealing
old paperbacks from the county dump.
That summer, we skipped along

the tracks, not yet realizing
the train could knock us flat.
& it was the summer
we learned that the hollow

of a throat is maybe also heaven
& a boy’s lips are good
for so much more than just keeping
his mouth shut. We were still innocent,

maybe, but we weren’t stupid.
Even then we knew that life
is bodily desire & a corpus
of thousands of tiny irreversible

deaths. Even then we knew
our mouths were white-hot.



Despy Boutris is published or forthcoming in American Poetry Review, Copper Nickel, Colorado Review, The Adroit Journal, Prairie Schooner, Palette Poetry, Third Coast, Raleigh Review, and elsewhere. Currently, she teaches at the University of Houston and serves as Assistant Poetry Editor for Gulf Coast.