She held my hand down, dipped
a brush into Glamour Purse polish, shushed it
over my fingernails, which bowed
to hail the brush. It felt like trappage,
a dissolved mountain
in a glass vial, glacier-
smooth, when she applied
this liquid skin, silencing
crescents. Her hand held me
down, ponderous like a hand
on a doorknob. Beyond the door::
a junk-heap frames my child self, taken in
by the discarded’s whispered seductions:
a quarter-used vial of polish
and a tiny plastic woman, her pink legs
her knob-ending neck a handle.
A plastic face a few feet away, a face
that cannot age, consumed
by rust’s mindless starvation. Things
disappear under bacteria’s private
exaltations, then recombine
and reappear, in a matter
that makes self unrecognizable to self,
no matter how self-conscious.
The oldest trick in the book, time’s
fire-leaps into forgetfulness, new
youth. If a place there were where
we could go, to miss life when we go,
a tongue, a cave, a niche
from which to remember what light
felt like, and breath, the white signatures
of scars, the compulsion
to look up at night as if stars were staring
eyes, the animal invaded
by a thousand forms of fear…
Glamour Purse, can your toxic glare
serve as witness? When air consumes itself
in noxious flame, you will remain.
Will you say, What was their trying, then?
Here again, memory’s revolving
door: father ushers with reins
a horse followed by a bed of nails
that makes the earth convulse. Under
a canopy’s crowned hush, so much
uncovered in this wrenching
of the earth: corn stalks, stiff, threaded
like cardboard remains of an abandoned
play; pink birth-control pills in a foil-
backed case; and a waterlogged potato rising
to the surface, spun
with roots, a system of veins
in the earth’s body, complete
already—where I learned
about enough. Turn the matter
over. I walk through a door and there
you are, Glamour Purse. Walk through
another, trying to inhabit
a garden called kind where red
means incompatibility, not poison. Follow
the garden snake, whose muted color matches
the surround. Glamour Purse, I found you
not among the mall’s perfume assembly,
fragrances jettisoned like shuttlecocks,
but abandoned on a mountain of refuse.
My mother cautioned against you,
believing the compulsion to your polish
coated the enough with social expectation.
Saying, Put nothing on your nails
for they are tiny lungs.
Liquid knife in a vial, I touched you
to my fingers’ horn-like envelopes.
Swept you up to the free margin,
my nails’ cutting edge. You kissed
keratin, found air solidifying, released
the breath of chemicals pressed
together, allure of stranger one looks at
with half-averted eyes. Was the debris
I stood on remnants of a runoff planet?
You seemed so alien. Not natural, said mother.
Wear something nice, she pressed, a dress.
Comb your hair before you exit.
Beside you, the tiny plastic woman, faceless,
her legs unhinged. She’s the one
my mother banished, north star
of a girl’s mind. I thought my mother meant
the size of plastic body parts could colonize.
The sex object’s magnetic radiance
sharp-tuning the brain to fetishize
self-deprecation. How could the same mouth say
to my snacking sister inside indoor pool’s
echo, You set for swimming
in that fat waist?
Glamour Purse, you made me. Made me
want to take a woman’s dress off.
I hadn’t noticed you in the mall’s hypnotic
luminosity. But here, your glam
in waste, I succumb to your electro-field.
Shot through with star, I descend
into your parody. Wildcard, you were a game
changer. You open to reveal a cyborg’s
metal bliss. Inside your lips lies a lacquer land
ready to pervert surface, femme squared
by itself, taken to its logical conclusion. Glamour
Purse, drown me in your delirium
of voodoo and lingerie. You took raw material
and poison and ran with it, scheming.
When you wear the wrong
thing swimming, water shifts and stares
at you sideways. When you’re wearing
the wrong body. Hear
the pool’s cold opera. Blue, magnified
by linoleum, echoes while the dull edge
of scissors tap against the tiles. Refuse
refuge. Never open
to strangers. But the brain is
shaped by repeated intrusions.
Tenderly, it digs
a grave. My sister was eating. She was
growing. She, a hungry one,
her limbs expanding
in nights of joint-cracking, knee-pain.
Someone give her some affection;
she grew as someone’s nightmare.
Her mother’s, exactly.
The woman on the gloss wore a dress.
The bathroom poster, my mother’s—
“Are you a feminist?” in bold red
type. No, I thought then, preferring
pants. But Glamour Purse, you spun
another story, story rising
to the surface of the mountain of junk
I sift through in my brain, things adhering
or not according to neuron’s
perverted whim; a story spun
with roots, a system
of veins in the body, complete
already—where I learned
about enough. I heard it in the shadow
of plastic wreckage and disturbed weeds
as I opened the bottle of coagulating
polish, heard it in the hush of your tainting
residue on my nails, far from the notions
thought inherent to your form,
since what is inherited occurs
through association alone.
Turn the matter over. Make me
your chemical trespass, Glamour Purse.
Her legs unhinged, her neck ending in a knob
like a handle, she’s the doorway
through which I enter. The plastic
face a few feet away is
my face, my sister’s face, a monument
to failure. In the dark living
room, blue tv light pools
and a blonde actress ascends
an escalator, a scavenger on a scavenger
hunt. A live camera tracks her ass
as a passing man’s hand possesses it
for 2.5 seconds. I move from living
room to escalator, try her skin, try his.
This is a simple example. I too
have been in thought a vulture, have wanted
something to handle, but what makes
a reach not a reach?
Afterward, my nails acquired a curious
agency. I tried to affix the head on the handle
but the fitting failed. Maybe it was wrong,
a wrong head on a wrong body—I’ve certainly
felt that way before. I left the face face-
up, sensing the use of an audience
member. As if she could see, through painted
eyes, what was happening to her body—
I too have felt that way before. I grasped
the dress, stiff with dirt and wrenched it
over the neck. It caught
at the handle, then released pleasantly.
I couldn’t take in enough of her
coveted more: more flesh, more fat,
less plastic the passive
quality of corpses. More more.
I couldn’t take in enough, stared
at her face as I stripped her, daring that object
to object—even now I often want to
overpower a lover entirely,
feel the rush of fire rage over the immediate
ground. He didn’t know her
safety, didn’t care to learn,
for the street was unimportant
and his was the kingdom, the power
and the glory, now and forever a man.
Ours was the epoch
of believing in the two-dimensional gloss
of the Cosmo. Internet, steroids,
liposuction, cocaine—each day we became
more cyborg. It was a matter of marvel,
making’s weird intoxication! Glamour
Purse, we were so becoming. We invented
a surgical chair, named it L.A., let it tower
over the desert, a blue device with metal
arms. We opened and closed shears, assembled
for the cutting. When I arrived
for my surgery, the knives commanded me
to open. Injected with dreams of Mars,
I entered the nightmare—
Three boys is a question. River spreads pigment to the shore. One boy bleeding from the temple. Just a second ago, feet in the river, cooling off.
The temple on the hill is black, they can see it for miles. The temple is painted over and over to mark—what? Point of salvation? The temple on the head is painted red. The water is so pale afterward, taking itself away.
There are subtle forms of violence. How much snow could be packed into a mouth?
Water is water hits water bleeds water wets water warps water.
Maybe one of the boys ties his shirt around another’s head. Maybe the third ties his on a high limb over the water as if to wash his hands without rolling up his sleeves.
Emergency in the temple, in the eyes. Blood rushing to the point of contact. How much time does it take to make a rock?
Three boys three sentences one river. The oddity, the imbalance. Three is a question: they can’t say anything. Only water speaks.
Water waters water boys.
The tectonic act. One rock. Stained river rushing away with the only voice it knows. Crimson, such a pretty word. Who would think to look for crime in there? For son, for rim and on? For smirk, for ruin? Down his face to murky, the river roars. Foams at the mouth.
Mandy Gutmann-Gonzalez holds an MFA in Poetry from Cornell University and teaches creative writing at Clark University. Their poetry has appeared in West Branch, The Malahat Review, Boulevard, BLOOM, Hobart, and other literary journals. They won the 2018 Boulevard Emerging Poets Prize and have received fellowships from the Lambda Writing Retreat for Emerging LGBT Voices, The Center for Book Arts, and the Bucknell Seminar for Younger Poets.