The Virgin World
It’s the same on a Friday night with the football lights trapped behind the windowpane and the caramelized taste of October trilling the air. Separate pairs of legs. Four shoes shifting heel to toe, digging hold of shag carpet roots, and the sofa cushion your grandmother crocheted is a living room version of the Berlin Wall, sturdy between two sides so similar.
There are too many patterns on the furniture, too many lines that never meet, and you watch your hands distracted by remote control buttons, teasing elevated rubber. Anything to postpone the sudden dart of your fingers …
Or on the rheostat of an ebbing TV screen, the on-the-air, in-between moments of an infomercial for miracle cleaner, the anticipation before revealing the price, where a desperate glance to the at-home-viewer could make all the difference of how much she’s willing to spend…
But you are tired of thinking in numbers. You learned to count before you learned to listen and now you don’t know when to lift your eyes from the tree trunk and go seek.
Things are easier to categorize than to define. You’ve succeeded your vocabulary for the convenience of concreteness. The foggy fish bowl water will always fill four quarts. Room temperature is cooler than the bodies inside. You mistake your tensioned lust for a circulating pulse. You define an eclipse not by loss of light or conquering dark, but by the number of covered convection cells. You only note details draped in proper terminology.
You remember the weight of the first breasts you ever held. Somewhere, outside Pittsburgh, on a missionary trip through Appalachia. You added floorboards to a kitchen in a house where no one lived yet. You divided the house into rooms, and in some empty corner you slid your hand beneath her cotton t-shirt, convinced you knew what you were doing. You remember the circumference of each nipple. A quarter could cover the change in skin tone. Like the moon’s umbra, you advanced eastward, tracing your fingers along her jutting ribcage.
But that was a childhood Spring, and you’ve spent these years waiting for a season to validate the extra pillows. When you need to fold your arm around her hip and hold to her for warmth. A season when the shared sheets offer conversation. When the line between pupil and teacher is simply who speaks first.
The American Dream Divided into Pennies
I am as American as they could make me, entitled, broke. Counting pennies and throwing them right back into the fountain of what they promised. When that overflowed, I arranged them into stacks as if the organization and the effort might make them multiply when I’m sleeping. I’ve been earning them for years, portioning them off to appease the beasts that take turns striking matches beneath my bed. The Universities, for those framed degrees. The mortgage for the walls to hang them on. The car needs new brakes because even a car knows it needs to stop. As a child, my next-door neighbor, who had no grandchildren of her own, would save me plastic bags of pennies for special occasions. If I could return every spilled bottle of nail polish and every cracked CD then maybe… And maybe, if she’d been my real grandmother and not a next-door neighbor, they would have been golden pennies. Something to stockpile for the future. My grandmother lived two miles away and died on her four-post bed framed by pink walls, surrounded by my Aunt’s new nose and pictures of my cousins’ weddings. She hated my father. He was a boy, and I was his daughter, and for twenty years she must have pretended that I was some foreign fairytale lost in translation. A girl with a face you can’t quite picture. A name you can’t pronounce without tripping over the vowels. She hated my father, and so she never saved me pennies or left me anything at all except the truth that someone is always picked last.
Jessica Royce Fischoff first began writing poetry while attending The University of Pittsburgh’s Creative Nonfiction MFA program. This is her first poetry publication.