Dark Came Early
On Kittatinny Ridge I kissed you first,
wet shale pushing at the floor of your tent.
You kissed back. Hard. Hiker midnight, we called it,
nine PM on the trail after the sun went down
and we scraped the last of the instant hot cocoa
from tin cups. Your teeth cut into my lips,
your dirt hands quarried at my back and lashed
my wrists under my trashed body. Next trip,
Grand Canyon in the dead of winter: nine miles
down, seven miles back up, thin air scraping
our lungs raw, rock cliffs slick with ice and snow.
Each step a sharp shimmering prayer, merciless
night at the bottom like sleeping on a sack
of hammers, muscles crumbling when we tried
to stand. Each year we went harder, which looked
enough like love. I got handcuffs. You found
a wine bottle with a strategically long neck.
One freezing morning at the end of December,
I locked myself out and kicked down my back door,
slamming my steel-toed boots into the wood
until it splintered. Inside, I put on the blood-red
backless top you loved to pull off, tight jeans, heels.
Told you to come over. Your eyes glittered like
a demon’s when you arrived. Here, I said. Take this.
They called it Manhunt, what we did at night
every summer once the grown-ups went inside to drink
and bet money on cards. All my cousins older boys
like my brothers, it did not matter that I hated
the game. We played. I only knew a few places to hide:
in Dad’s shed where he chopped wood each winter,
up the good sledding hill to the neighbor’s treeline,
behind one of the cars. It never took long for some boy
to sneak up silent and whisper go on, get out of here,
then crouch in my place. None of them would tag
me out, or allow me to be It. I was always running,
scanning the brambles for some overlooked spot
to tuck my body into. Cover blown. Not once
did I ask them to explain the rules. Nor would I admit
how the inky cloak of our backyard terrified me,
the dim yellow bellies of the fireflies our only light,
the towering shadow of the prize blue spruce
casting spindly fingers on the sky as I searched.
Betsy Housten is a Pushcart-nominated queer writer and massage therapist. Her work appears or is forthcoming at the Academy of American Poets, Bone & Ink Press, Cotton Xenomorph, Glassworks Magazine, Lunch Review and elsewhere. She lives in New Orleans, where she is pursuing her MFA in poetry. Find her on Twitter @popcorngoblin.