Melissa Barrett

There are footprints here, staring back
at each other—nearly identical

but I can’t remember which way I came,
and when. It’s the same dream:

running after you, after the sun, after
you, on a blacksanded beach with daisies

glowering in both hands. The trees
rattle their poms and the breath of water

tinctures the air. Each moment grayer,
your name rolls from my mouth less alive.

I’m chasing you with dying flowers, don’t
you see? Our bloodorange September—

I was stable on this world, my conviction
with the strength of barbells. You pulled

my hair around the heart of my chin
and now I can’t stop writing your address

out on envelopes. Now I’m foal-legged
      at the shoal. In the morning your mouth

was dry: you sucked the color right out
of my body. We were going to play

tug of war but you never came.
I lugged the rope upstairs, strung it

from my window to yours and sat
cross-legged, waiting for some burst

or whistle. It hung over my window
like something rotting. Like a pawed tide

and my feet under the water, lunar white.
My sisters tell me to stop

with big dripping eyes. I tell them
you opened your mouth and drank

half my blood. I even write it
into the dust on the tv screen: 1699

Ambler Avenue. The rope whimpers,
sharding off to sand, and tomorrow

the beach will fix itself, double in size,
puff back up and I won’t sleep.

On our last night, I didn’t sleep.
My eyes hummed. I blinked

and a blood curtain fell. I blinked
and your mouth filled

with cretonne. Who knew I’d go in,
with all of my clothes

still on? I swear to God,
I never wanted us to drown.

Melissa Barrett is the recent author of False Soup, a veg-friendly cookbook from Forklift, Ink. Her poems have received honors from Tin House, Indiana Review, and Gulf Coast, and can be found in No Tell Motel, Sotto Voce, and H_NGM_N. She lives and teaches in Columbus, Ohio.

“Every high school dance, every Father’s Day and Easter, my family assembles on the brick steps of my parents’ front porch to snap family portraits. We stand in front of an American flag, flanked by two shining white columns, and smile dumbly at the photographer—usually one of my sister’s boyfriends, steadying a camera assuredly left of center. The same small porch served as a backstop for our grade school softball matches, as prison, safe haven, and general hangout during our Capture the Flag marathons, and as a home to our slouching scarecrow at the bottom of fall.”