Not Doing Something Wrong Isn't the Same as Doing Something Right

Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz

In my defense, my forgotten breasts. In my defense, the hair
no one brushed from my face. In my defense, my hips.

Months earlier, I remember thinking that sex was a ship retreating
on the horizon. I could do nothing but shove my feet in the sand.

I missed all the things loneliness taught me: eyes that follow you
crossing a room, hands that find their home on you. To be noticed, even.

In my defense, his hands. In my defense, his arms. In my defense,
how when we just sat listening to each other breathe, he said, This is enough.

My body was a house I had closed for the winter. It shouldn’t have been
that difficult, empty as it was. Still, I stared hard as I snapped off the lights.

My body was a specter that haunted me, appearing when I stripped
in the bathroom, when I crawled into empty beds, when it rained.

My body was abandoned construction, restoration scaffolding
that became permanent. My body’s unfinished became its finished.

So in my defense, when he touched me, the lights of my body came on.
In my defense, the windows were thrown open. In my defense, spring.

More by Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz

July

The figs we ate wrapped in bacon.
The gelato we consumed greedily:
coconut milk, clove, fresh pear.
How we’d dump hot espresso on it
just to watch it melt, licking our spoons
clean. The potatoes fried in duck fat,
the salt we’d suck off our fingers,
the eggs we’d watch get beaten
’til they were a dizzying bright yellow,
how their edges crisped in the pan.
The pink salt blossom of prosciutto
we pulled apart with our hands, melted
on our eager tongues. The green herbs
with goat cheese, the aged brie paired
with a small pot of strawberry jam,
the final sour cherry we kept politely
pushing onto each other’s plate, saying,
No, you. But it’s so good. No, it’s yours.
How I finally put an end to it, plucked it
from the plate, and stuck it in my mouth.
How good it tasted: so sweet and so tart.
How good it felt: to want something and
pretend you don’t, and to get it anyway.

Things That Happened During Petsitting That I Remind Myself Are Not Metaphors for My Heart

The dog refuses to eat. I keep filling her bowl
anyway: new kibble on top of old, hoping
that it will suddenly becoming tempting.

When I write, the cat watches me from a chair.
When I look at him, he purrs loudly, leans forward
so that I might touch him. I don’t.

Now the dog refuses to come out of her cage,
no matter what I say, no matter how wide I open
the door. She knows that I am not her master. 

On the couch, the cat crawls on top of me
and loves me so hard, his claws draw blood.
I am so lonely, I do nothing to stop it.

There are lights in this house I want to turn on,
but I can’t find their switches. Outside, an engine
turns and turns in the night, but never catches.

Things We Didn't Talk About

The boy found hanging on the golf course.
The boy with the bruises, who’d arrive
to school coatless in the middle of winter.
The man with the red face and the thick stutter
who cleaned up our vomit in grade school.
The veteran who spoke to the seventh grade,
confessed how scared he’d been and wept.
The cousin who disappeared completely
after she refused to eat anything but olives.
The mother who was a drunk. The father
who told us all he was an undercover cop
and that’s why he had the gun. The boy
who got shot. The boy who got cancer
in both legs, his angry dad, his frail sisters.
Why we never got responses to our get well
soon cards, the mute teachers continuing
their lessons plans. What happened
to that hungry black dog who’d bolt
through the school yard, the one
that refused to stay leashed.