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Christine Hamm

False Start

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Someone coughs, someone scratches. We are so heavy, it turns out. Someone rolls over. No one can sleep. We all close our eyes.

What it means to hang over running water. I fall more than once but each time is a surprise, a chance to explore the blood of my cuts, the stain mud leaves on my thighs.

Lakes don't know so much as swallow or recede.

So when his father asks him to take a canoe ride, just the two of them, he starts to kiss me until the others leave the porch.

The guards wear fluffy gray padding all over their bodies, order me to do something with words I don't understand.

He is touching the stones with his nose: he is sniffing the sand, he is walking straight into the water away from us, his chin down to his chest.

I go for a boy I know and pound on his window. It's five am. He doesn't have a bed; he sleeps in a cupboard. He lets me lie next to him if I promise not to shiver so much.

Something bucket-sized bangs a wall, bangs a wall.

In the phonebooth in the back of the courtroom, I am trying to write the history of meat, waiting for my name to be called.

I wake up as a kitten, puking, one of five in a sticky pink hatbox.

No matter where I am, he tells me, by the tenth page, even after six cups of coffee. He holds his swollen belly and moans. His hands look like they've been broken more than once.

When I bend my eye to the gap in the floor I can see the top of his stepmother's head; she sloshes soap on the bread pans and spoons.

Beside the river, next to the boulder, in the sand, the ants in disarray, the skin peeling from my back like burnt pieces of paper.

The phone works, off and on, and he never wants to be alone in the same room with his father.

It's just like going to sleep, he tells us.

Or under the lukewarm water at the edge of the lake, the sun slanting, flecking everything gold and brown, our mouths and hands busy, holding our breaths as long as we can stand.

She looks up sometimes, her mouth crooked to the side, but he whispers, she can't hear us.

Picnic Games

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A blue blanket. Clouds, the sick yellow light.
A dark blond curl by an open mouth. A bottle

of beer. A bottle of milk. A bottle of beer, in a row
next to her hip. Panties cut high on the thigh; skirt

lifted over her head with a stick while she drowsed.
Cicadas, low then loud.

Scuffing the mud under the picnic table with our bare
toes. Flies settle; Suzy is stung. We hop and stomp,
tumble the raw hotdogs, the bottles of orange pop.

Two long sighs. Her fingers shuffle at the skirt
over her face, push it away. She knocks over

the milk, struggles to sit up. Another firefly.
Then, another.

City Under the Stairs

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Fake wood paneling, blue and white wallpaper
where the ceiling slopes to the floor, around
the edges of the door frame. A musty smell.
The urge to sneeze. A string leading to
an empty light socket, dangling from the ceiling.
A tiny army man on his belly under your shoe.

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