I learned to say you can do
whatever you want to me
before knowing desire’s


I gave names
to the bodies
I shouldn’t touch,
incanted them
in the made dark rooms
of backseat, against-the-floor.
I worshipped their new names
despite myself: how
their vowels rang out
in my open mouth.


I bent low before
these bodies,
mistaking servitude
for devotion: as
the first man uttered
trust me, I granted him
each side of my face
until its flush purpled.


What did I learn?—
how to swim
my changing body
like a ferry to desire.
What did I learn?—
at first, the door to life
and the door to the river
both only read open.


What did I learn?
—after touching,
while they leave
or sleep, in my bathroom
or theirs, the quiet ritual
of erasing them
from inside me:
blotting them
from my legs and hips,
by the lamp,
the mirror.


I count and weigh
their pleasure
like coin
for the ferryman.
I walk with them
each time across that shore
from living to dead
to living.


Rachel Mennies is the author of The Glad Hand of God Points Backwards, winner of the 2013 Walt McDonald First-Book Prize in Poetry, and the chapbook No Silence in the Fields. Her poetry has appeared in Black Warrior Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Drunken Boat, The Journal, Crazyhorse, and elsewhere, and has been reprinted at Poetry Daily. Mennies teaches writing at Carnegie Mellon University and serves as a member of AGNI’s editorial staff.