"The Girl With No Tail" and other poems

by John LaPine

The Girl With No Tail

The Girl with No Tail has no balance.
She teeters on the brink,
eclipses precipice. Threat of falling does not
thump hard in her chest, does not live
in her throat, her tiny black throat.
She lives like danger becomes her.
She lets herself wobble against
wind, a branchless tree: thin.

Girl with No Tail, who took your tail?
And why? Who needed a black tail?
Is it bubbling in some witch’s cauldron?
Bleeding on a teens floor,
throbbing like love lost?
Or is it rotting in some cave,
feeding beetles and blind bats?
It is lost in some alley?
Is it pinned to the moon? 
And, Girl with No Tail,
when did you lose your tail?
Yesterday? The day before?
Before you can remember? Years ago,
memory hazy as smeared blackboard chalk?
Or so long ago, in a life you can barely
remember, can barely call your own?

Who now wraps your tail around themselves
and calls it their own, calls it home?
Who digested your tailpart for a meal?
Who sliced it off for Halloween fun?
Girl with No Tail, do you resent your
tail thief? Does their face keep you
awake at midnight? Does it linger,
bitter acid on your tongue?
Do faces like that face still haunt you?
Do they turn your blood to needles?
Or do you feel thankful that they
made you stronger?
Tell me what it feels like
to lose part of yourself like that,
for a stranger to shape you anew.

 

Four Augusts Before

a city in Missouri caught flame,
my aunties would teach me
to Electric Slide. I
thristed something fierce,
that summer,
needed anything wet
anything to quench my
arid mouth—
iced coffee, beer—
what I knew would
dehydrate me.
I think we discovered
thirst that summer. We
must have learned it when
desperation sang like
wind through the sands
of our throats. Air
hung humid, heavy
with water, clung to caverns
in our teeth
like melting chocolate.
We tried to breathe,
to take that water in,
but lungs can’t separate
sky from liquid,
and those trees,
green fireworks,
laughed and
lapped up our sighs.

That summer, while mouths
got drier, our eyes grew
wet, not like pools
but like blood tests—
click—
a pinprick, then
tiny red bulbs
gnawing through
fingerprints,
blossoms perennial
because this happens
every year.
How does our DNA
remember ancestral traumas,
the droughts and blights,
the hungry nights?
Do needles
change our skin?
Will my grandchildren feel
my first heartbreak?
Will they feel this thirst?
Will they feel the fear
I feel when videos of
unarmed black men
go viral? Will they feel
pain enter my chest
as I watch bullets exit theirs?

That summer, everything felt
at once like a beginning
and an end, surprising
yet inevitable, like movie
scripts or ancient scripture
while Iggy cracked Billboard
and Pharrell melted speakers
trying to make us believe
two years before the end
of Obama that
we could be happy.
That summer, we waited
armpits wet
for the sky to break
open, threat or promise
of rain to be fulfilled
and extinguish Hell
on Earth,
to pin cotton to skin
and we knelt,
gazes skyward,
mouths agape
while we waited to learn
if we’d be cleansed
or drowned like turkeys.

 

Truvada

Side effects include: mild diarrhea skin
rash stomach pain headache itching strange
dreams and in some cases changes in shape

and location of fat around the body:
your body tonight sings hollow,
dull metal, tastes as such. Buzzes like
Basquiats awaiting frazzled crowns, sunken
eyes baseboard flat: deranged—fat
molecules rearranged.

Serious effects include: kidney failure
bone pain increased fracture risk
and new tendency to breed, absorb
seed like cottonswab, like God’s
flood intended, to reach wet equilibrium.
The ark can’t hold us both. Be clean.
Bury shame like silk turtle eggs,
silt soft. Drain your bloody;
chug water, then ask I
slip it in raw. 

That night my teeth fall out. Not at once.
In pieces: four half molars decayed
fragments spat in hand. I’ll wake
next to the boy, rub tongue
along jaw, surprised for hours
I don’t taste blood.

 

black boys, beware

boys who only say I love you when they're drunk,
swipe left men who find brown eyes forbidden
fruit, sink canines in cornea, and drink pupil ink like molasses,
but darker, who expect rape fantasy, or thug, or Bruh.
who say i’ve never been with a black guy. what do
you want diversity funding? or; i only date black guys.
what do you want? a punch card? lack heartholes.
swerve ten gallon hat’s scratching itch, eyefucking
crowded bars, all paw, claw, and saliva saccharine
on moustache, well poisoned to pitch. black boys;
do not engage musty needs. these men should not be
your friends. do not let them fuck you. fuck yourselves
instead. revel in aloneness, cold feather comforters,
your own fingers, meals for one. shun marble halls
claimed hallow: dustless, pure. they aren’t—
don’t deserve your dirty sacred nights, to rattle storm windows.
walls come down, glass smashed, moonlight, distorted,
dissolved by waxen moths. silk paper: devoured.

Caitlyn Garcia