the last tinder date, below ground (2021)

by Isabelle Anderson


on the cusp of june,         you wonder, again,         if you could ever love 
     a man.        the neighborhood’s windows reopen         and your cough syrup silences fill with the twofold noise         of the seventeen year cicadas:     their own
tissue paper speech         and your family’s         speculation on disgust. 

your aunt asked, isn’t it a mating call?    with the same intonation as        do you
have a boyfriend?
            she met your hesitation with half-concession,         or girlfriend,
you never know these days.

in mere lcd seconds,         fingerpads marrying screen,     you’re in some guy’s red sedan
& he thinks, because you write poems,     that you do not know         what a prime number is,         lecturing unsolicited on cicadas’ only     evolutionary advantage: 
their unpredictability.

but you know this game,     this evasion of predators,     your fickle feelings
an act of survival,        rendering you unable to know yourself    whether you will let
him touch you,     whether you will even be afforded the choice, 
as you marinate in a carful of want,         the assuredness of his desire,     enviable 
& fear-inspiring.

your aunt’s boyfriend         had called her squeamish for her dislike     of the geysering
insects streaming from holes         in your grandmother’s yard.         
he had asked        if they disgusted you too     so, you wielded a tiny vacant body     
to assure him            the bug was not         the root of your repulsion.

the boy takes you     to a set of train tracks, tells you,         the rails will rattle if a train is coming,     pulling you from your place,         two and a half feet north of risk, 
and onto the wooden vertebrae             despite your steady stream of
      no     no     no     no     no     no     no     no     no     no     no     no     no     no     no     no     no

don’t forget how     your aunt’s boyfriend said of the shell,     that’s not enough,     
explained how he weaned his daughters         of entomological fear, plucked one    
as it emerged from the ground,     living,        and sat it in your palm,
deciding for you what             your body would do.

you think you hear a whistle,         but it is just the boy’s breath,         hungry and intrusive,         as he gracelessly pitches up some gravel;     the clang against the track     you mistake for the end,             deciding you cannot die     before you love a woman.

you are able only to remember    that new-old being         you led from ground to bark,     where you watched how it,         screaming out for love,     pulled off
the skin it wore for nearly two decades,        all touch, yours included,     left
            on the hollowed suggestion of what it once was.


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