The Boiler

Laura Creste

EXCERPT FROM THE BODY POEMS, A NOVEL IN VERSE.

(The main character Lila is the middle child, with two sisters, Allison and Nina.)

I’m so afraid of ruining my life without knowing it
Allison says one day on the olive couch, sun-damaged
and damp from bathing suit bottoms.

Then don’t have children, our mother says easily.
She’s not precious about grandchildren.

Her girls are now 21, 24, 26.
If any of us were pregnant
it would be as ludicrous as getting knocked up at sixteen.
My mother filed my FAFSA for graduate school.

Psychologists call this extended adolescence.

*

I dreamed that Allison died.
Then Allison’s dog got rabies.
I was crying and kissing his dream face
unafraid of being bitten and
under this pure rage that my sister was dead.

I woke up drenched.
Night sweats: even wet at the scalp.

Allison was alive in Park Slope
and that dog –
it didn’t even exist yet.

*

Should I consider him dead to me?
I asked. There was a new man wrecking my peace

while we ate pepper steak with too soft rice.

They made a movie about this, the mother said.
It’s called He’s Just Not That Into You.
It’s also called He’s Kind of a Freak.

The second movie doesn’t exist but she was trying to be funny.

Then he contacted me, something stupid
and chatty about the cold weather. It was January.

Now what? I implored them.

Nina said Don’t.

*

I met a psychiatrist who noted
my symptoms and appetites,
prescribed the necessary pills.

She had a dog in her office,
a small curly one, entirely without charm,
and encouraged her patients to hold it
while they shared their feelings.

I said no thank you and
made myself look like a sociopath.
If you don’t like animals
no one will ever trust you.

Have you ever been suicidal?

              No.

Never ever?

              Wrong question.

*

I like to sleep with a knife
in my bedside table, in case of intruders.

Like I could wield it effectively if need be,
though I can’t cut up a raw chicken.

My mother finds the knife and takes it away.

*

In the last years of his life, my grandfather was paranoid.
Maybe too much Prozac, maybe not enough.

He hid the block of knives every night,
afraid of burglars turning his own knives against him.

It’s less crazy than it sounds.
Our grandmother had to search for the bread knife

to cut her Italian bread each morning.

*

If I were going to kill myself I tell my therapist
I wouldn’t floss my teeth every day.

*

I make the outrageous claim that I would have been a doctor
back in the day, meaning before modern medicine.

Because of my willingness to look at anything.
Allison’s boyfriend has a blackened toenail,
loose like a tooth, that I offer to excise.
He pours more rosé and says maybe.

The next day at the beach
the nail is sloughed off in the sand.

Allison comes back from walking the dog
and her boyfriend has his hands shut together.
Al I have something for you.

Is it an engagement ring? She says wryly,
knowing it might be true.

When she sees the inky-violet chip
she thinks it’s a seashell
leans in closer
her face awash in understanding, revulsion.

She can’t handle feet.

*

When running into an ex
it’s always easier to hug, than make the decision not to.

I think of how we’re all on top of a graveyard
in Washington Square Park. 20,000 bodies below
and above that his girlfriend
saying she needs to buy more underwear.
My friend Eddie lowering his shorts to remind me
of his Hans Christian Andersen mermaid tattoo.

I finally hear I don’t want to keep you
as the cruelest way to say goodbye.

*

It’s astonishing that the sun so far away still hurts my eye,
makes the green world turn, makes freckles bloom.

I try to catch it, really see the sun vanish
without looking away.

Spots in my vision from the pinkest glare
and green sea glass glows over the ground.

I knew a man who died of skin cancer.
He had a collection of rocks that looked like potatoes.

He was a poet holding idea and image in his hand.
The joy of saying this is like that.

*

As girls we made full body prints in the outdoor shower.
Wet skin to the wooden slats charted height and size.

It hurt that I was not the thin sister
but there was moss under foot
on the red tile stone, and soap suds
making a moat around the tiger lilies
on the other side of the wall.

There was grit of sand in the soap dish
and above that the blue summer sky
which would not darken for some time.

______________________

Laura Creste is an MFA candidate in poetry at NYU, and a graduate of Bennington College. She works as a co-public relations editor at Washington Square Review, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Phantom, Bodega, plain china, the Silo, and elsewhere. She has also written book reviews for Full Stop and Bustle.