On New Year’s Eve, mom and I booked a place
downtown. She wore a mollusk-colored dress, open
at the back, and heels she knew she could move
in. Our dinner plans were too early—we had to stall
so we could mark the hour with champagne fizz.
We sucked on oysters shipped from a distant sea.
In Ohio, you’re a full day’s drive from the nearest sea.
Growing up, the Great Lakes were an exotic place—
three hours, as far as my family could drive without fist-
fights in the back seat, mom cranking the window open
and chucking out the Hot Wheels car my brothers and I all wanted.
Nothing left to fight over. Her signature move.
Lately I’ve been watching my life like it’s a movie
that a neighbor is playing with the curtains wide; I see
blue light & the movement of fight scenes, that’s all.
None of this is happening to me, I have no place
in this film. My neighbor has left the drapes open
again—another poor actress at the business end of a fist.
In my house, it was the women who put their fists
into drywall, who slammed doors and moved
through hallways like wild horses. At 13, I had only to open
my glossy mouth to set us off. Even now I never see
it coming—the toss of the head, the breakneck pace.
I used to think she was the only mad stallion in the stall.
I will not be a mother. Certain friends tell me to stall,
too soon to decide. They cannot see that I have a fist
for a womb. I know I am missing a safe, warm place
inside. Where do I fit, a woman who does not simply move
against the current, but drifts out to her own empty sea?
Pull me back from the lonely gush, from the wide open.
There were years when our relationship hinged open.
In these years, I took our fury and swallowed it all.
(Even in Ohio, oysters taste like the wide, blank sea.)
I was young when I understood that words can be fists
and I could either learn to dodge, weave, and move,
or else I could disappear, send a glossy decoy in my place.
Perhaps my place in this world is trying to move
toward me—if I stand stock still and pray to be seen
a door will open like a fist, or an apology.
Erica Reid is a Colorado poet, editor, educator, and critic. Her debut collection Ghost Man on Second won the 2023 Donald Justice Poetry Prize and will be published by Autumn House Press in early 2024. Erica’s poems will appear in Rattle, Birmingham Poetry Review, The Inflectionist Review, and more. ericareidpoet.com