To become the opposite of orgasm, I practiced
………..breathing with the cyst
nestled in my left ovary, where the pelvic
………..bone juts up
to meet skin and socket. I tongued demands,
………..a steel countertop parallel
to my spine, while she insisted I could conduct
A spark would jolt my limbs
………..to swagger off
the table, proof of something alive
………..inside my muscle.
Her frying pan dare: see if I could keep
………..the yolk whole, a small
fluid-filled sac that if it bursts, it bursts.
………..It would have been a relief
to lose a little more. You could stand to lose
……….. more, he told me.
He was obsessed with measurements. The salad
………..on the scale. Weighing pears,
he estimated how much I would need,
………..suggesting serving sizes,
his perfect portions. Commands, not questions.
………..My uneaten bite,
my refusal to measure. I left one
………..curled arugula leaf or crusts
from toast. The year of almost. The year
………..of maybe. Men moved
their unsteady chins up and down.
………..They told me, if only,
my body a tragedy. If I burst,
………..I burst, no more hurt than
the sharp pinch from a man bumbling
………..across my feet. I watched
my tropical fish die from fin rot. The tetras
………..went first. My blue
gourami the last, half floating, half swimming
………..on the water’s scummy edge.
Two red drops and two yellow drops neutralized
………..the infection. It still
spread. I was never at home. I combed every aisle
………..of the grocery store, my nails
digging in for miracles. I harvested pre-dawn
………..tomatoes, chard, and green beans
the harder way. I was not a morning person.
………..I was not a night
person. I was a midday creature that slept
………..opposite of any man.
I stayed awake longer. After that year, I grew
………..all muscle and sinew:
my husband now looks at me like a panther. He cuts
………..my haunches on his teeth,
pressing the mechanism inside my pelvic floor—
I’d pay good money to watch you eat that peach
again. He said this to me in a moan. The peach,
nearly overripe. Every time I fuck up the timing.
I’m sexy when stumbling around with fruit or a clumsy
acrobat in backwards lace lingerie. Those men
no less hungrier a decade later. To slake a thirst
no one told me about, scars I had forgotten.
At twelve I jumped off a rusty swing and sliced
a layer of the delicate skin on the back of my knee,
remembering the wound when my finger grazed
the half-moon scar, a false indicator of pain.
I’ll keep on ignoring my body and let it heal
crooked. I aspire to evidence without effort.
Prizes of Mostly Air
New bodies arrived
with the mail: dead cicada,
morning thunder. I stole
off picnic tables and oak trees,
gathering them in my shirt
like a woman filling up
her apron with apples
from the fall harvest.
I wove a circlet, barbed
legs like barrettes
pinning back my hair.
Ancient crowned insect
queen. Dreamy pestilence.
The largest broods are
the most patient for late
summer’s heavy heat,
making me believe
in spontaneous generation.
I plucked out crickets
smaller than the moon
of my fingernail from
mixing bowls. Their legs
spindled into hunched
miniatures, awkward hump.
Those same winter-stopped
bodies were steeped in lemon
peppermint tea by accident,
plumped torso thrown
into the sink. Or legs
ripped apart one
fragment at a time.
I swept up useless forms.
I waited for more to come.
Cars and Highways
The first man who showed me
how to pump gas left his truck
engine running as he filled the tank.
He turned off the ignition, breathed
never do what I just did. I’m prone
to accidents in cars: the semi grazing
the passenger’s side where I felt
the heat from metal friction.
My professor, surveying the damage,
looked past me. One more inch.
He shook his head while he cursed
invasive roadside vegetation. A blown
tread on the Florida interstate left me
sideways in the backseat while a friend
was surrounded by a half-moon of knives.
From above highways look like the human
nervous system: arteries, pulsing with cars,
feed into major and minor vessels.
I looked up the route from Mayagüez
to San Juan. It’s not direct. It circles
around the edges—no easy way
through the middle or diagonal stretch.
Roads can be less adaptable than veins.
Both threaten collapse with age.
Vinegar & Honey
You are insect today
and every other day,
flighty but easily seduced
with sugar. I drink wine
in bed, empty the litterbox,
anything a pregnant woman
should not do. I lace vinegar
with dish soap to cure
all the sweetness
in my kitchen and ward
off impossible fruit flies
drawn to rot. I dress
my unrepentant feast,
my mouth full of honey
that dilutes the spoiled wine
I held for too long on my tongue.
Sundays, I am on my knees.
Evenings, I break my fast
with a meal that quiets
my sharp thirst. I scour
the house. I read your letters
although they are as empty
as shed cicada skins,
where the shiny nymph
fled for its short ticking life.
Once I make a crown
from those exoskeletons
I know you will mistake
me for one of your own.
You will linger despite
the dangerous cold, seething
your dying tymbal song.
radial lines. A setting
on an infinite loop—
where you went
hiking. Crested anole.
Confetti. Fly resting
on a fungus like pale coral
sponge. It rains gems,
golden glitter. Knife
and tile, heated
days for a darkling beetle.
Those sunset limbs
are like ash, stitching
a knuckle back together.
Resistant ink and thorns.
Your eye is a beating
dandelion heart seed
after bloom. Pose on a leaf,
you’re sweet like a rose.
A downward spiral
into gelatin, rainy
You must be patient.
The tissue has not yet
scarred. An unidentified
portrait of you, you again,
sharpened dew in cave
balconies out of a genus
that has yet to arrive.
You find joy in a freshwater
nymph balancing on fine brush
hairs, budding like a sea
anemone, red spiked burrs.
Your boot soles peeling.
Mazes. Where this and this
hunt for prey. The work
of recycling earth. Axe and broken
tile. A green midge resting
on pale lavender petals. Those you
leave stretch out their
bodies like stick insects,
blotches of light behind
them, all memory.
About the author:
Alyse Bensel’s poems have most recently appeared or are forthcoming in The Adroit Journal, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Quarterly West, New South, Bone Bouquet, and elsewhere. She is the author of the poetry chapbooks Not of Their Own Making (dancing girl press) and Shift (Plan B Press) and serves as the Book Reviews Editor at The Los Angeles Review. A PhD candidate in creative writing at the University of Kansas, she lives in Lawrence.