I grab a fistful and hurl it at my second grade teacher on her
wedding day. Her husband dies in a car crash. I wear a
tie-dye shirt that says Gentleness. I bite Ashley after
she chooses Milagros as a partner. I eat a stick of butter,
try to throw-up. I’m in love with my best friend.
He’s known to have crying fits. Runs naked all the time.
When I sleep at his house I try not to wet the bed. His father
has a banjo with missing strings. My ear is stuffed with cotton
as I lie on my side. My brother plays whiffle ball
and wheezes. My father drinks seven cups of coffee a day.
His hands shake. Macho meows and meows. A deep, melodic sound.
He’s my feline hero. I have many names: Penelope, Kelly, Abigail.
None of them close to my real one. It’s years before my first wine cooler,
before doing The Wop in the school cafeteria, before bleached hair and razors,
stain between my legs. My mother’s thumbs twitch as she holds me
in her lap. She has blue, protruding veins like swollen rivers.
I scratch myself, pull my own hair, imagine troops storming the streets
outside the library. I’m never safe. There’s a shadow
in my spleen. Tiny red bugs swarm the window screen.
My brother and I watch two men slug it out, drunk and
ill-coordinated. One of them starts to bleed.
Rosie, Carmen and Tiana follow me to Ashley’s stoop and,
hands on hips, chant, Flat Leaver, Flat Leaver, Flat Leaver.
I leave everyone flat. Ashamed of my breath, smell, cells.
Wearing a cast that cuts off my circulation. My parents don’t notice till
my grandmother grabs my arm and says, Que línda, how chubby she is.
We’re in the Bronx at her house with the chatchka-filled cabinets
and plastic-covered sofas. My father grabs a scissor,
begins cutting.


Leila Ortiz was born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and raised in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Leila is of Puerto Rican, Cuban and Irish descent and works in NYC public schools as a social worker. She is the author of two chapbooks, Girl Life (Recreation League 2016) and A Mouth is Not a Place (dancing girl press 2017).