When he came, a blast of cold rain
tore through grandma’s trees, threw
walnuts and leaves on the ground,
stomped on them with mad feet.
Ah, that green bitterness,
its juice seeping into the white
meaty kernel of the broken shell.
My hand was swollen from bee stings.
I’d offered them grapes in exchange
for their honey. Kneeling in front
of the beehive, I slid my hand
through the slot. The grapes,
like purple eyes, rolled on my open
palm, gaped into the warm, glowing
darkness. I was sure the bees
would take them. I struggled to pull
my hand out, smearing snot,
grape juice, and tears all over my face.
He led me through dark rooms
to the back of his parents’ house.
His bedroll was carelessly thrown
on the floor. He had just returned
from the army and could only sleep
on the ground. A huge yellow cat
coiled on his pillow. It meowed,
opened its mouth in a pink yawn.
He patted my hair, wiped my face
with his sleeve. He drew out
his cock and asked me to touch it.
I touched it with my healthy hand.
The other I clutched under my chin,
afraid to look. He asked me to touch
his cock with my swollen hand,
to close my ugly fingers around it.
My fingers and his cock looked
as if they belonged together,
throbbing, both swelling with pain.
He pushed me down on the blankets,
gently, and reached under my skirt.
The yellow cat had to move.
It stretched and tiptoed away
into the dark. When he finished,
he promised to punish the bees.
They will never come near you
again, he promised, I am
your friend and they fear me.
Late that night, mother and I sat
for dinner. Grandma brought out
the beans, poured the wine.
I drank my half of a glass and asked
for more. You’ll get drunk, grandma
laughed and gave me her glass.
I listened to them talking about
my father, gone to the city to find
a job, how he would come back
with no money, as always.
My hand was swaddled in cotton
strips, torn from my mother’s
nightshirt. Under the bandage,
baked onion wedges clang to my skin.
My skin stank, but I liked
the numbness. Quietly, I slipped
into a peaceful martyrdom.
Eat more, grandma nudged.
I held my mother’s arm,
my head on her breast.
Too much wine, said mother
and scooped me up for bed.
First published in Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, issue 48, June 2018