Looking back, I’d guess that the prettiest
girl in third grade had a crush on me
which I completely failed to realize, in spite
of the two extra valentines placed on my desk
and the cologne she gave me at Christmas.
She was busy chasing boys, and I chased them too
to keep her company during recess.
Switching schools, I dropped her completely,
but the apple-sized bottle stayed on my dresser,
and goddesses with her hair and her smile
continued to glide through my dreams.
I wasn’t a child who blossomed at parties
so the scent remained in the bottle. There was nothing
to be anointed for, and there wouldn’t be, for years.
I don’t remember anything at all
about the flowers I should have smelled like.
Only the name remains: Sweet Honesty —
a virtue I have never possessed
even when delivered to me
wrapped as a gift and brazen as lilies.
At a Sushi Bar on Mount Carmel
“Jerusalem prays while Tel Aviv plays
and Haifa works.” That’s how the saying goes
but here at Japanika, all I taste
is the kind of trouble that grows—that glows
like a sky polluted with too much light—
enough to mask the stars, yet neither bright
nor warm enough for sustenance. That kind
of piece of work—that’s you from head to toe.
The pop song blaring from the stereo
warns me that I’ve already lost my mind:
I wasn’t your first. I won’t be your last.
But I want you to long for this stretch by the sea—
your mouth to water at the hope of tasting me.
Every Angel Is Terrifying
Before you leave, I will stitch three moons
to the inside of your jacket—not
within the pockets, like coins to be plucked,
but skimming the hems, the way the sky
so often seems about to catch on the trees.
They are merely moons. Among the things
they cannot do: stanch blood, skin hares,
turn monsters back into the men they were.
They will not pay for a room or a meal.
But when you come near to selling your soul
for lantern or torch, the better to glare
at she who’ll neither bless nor let you go—
moonlight won’t save you either, but
at least you’ll wrest from the dark
the sight of her face to store with your pain.
Neither Fire Nor Water
I would walk over oranges for you.
I have staggered away from the cross
and its silver gills
and its bronze spores.
Both presumption and despair have scorched my palms:
I hold them out, neither to beg nor shame
but to show you the scars of a living map.
I don’t wear that kind of powder anymore.
I don’t scowl at the lines on the me
in the tiny circle of glass on my palm,
though I sometimes miss the me who was given
this sweet little case. I’ve kept it for years,
a relic of twenty-pounds-lighter me
who hadn’t yet learned how people vanish
long before death insists on claiming them.
These days, the future doesn’t even wait
for the fog to fade from my glasses before
it reads its riot self aloud to me. It says,
You’ll waltz again in Texas, at a wedding.
You’ll still look good in gray at the wakes.
Promise yourself to pay as much mind
to what you still have as what you’ve spent
grieving over the gone. You know full well
how to put a good face on things. You know
I’m as true as a mirror. Don’t clutch at me—
I’ll bring what you need,
but it’ll be up to you to see it.
Peg Duthie is the author of Measured Extravagance (Upper Rubber Boot, 2012). She shares an old house in Nashville with a tall mechanic, a large dog, and a small piano, and there’s more about her at nashpanache.com.