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Janna Layton


I. Motel

Stay there,
says my sister, following our lover to the window
to look out into the night lit by neon
that illuminates nearly nothing.

And I do.

I stay on the green-pink-purple bedspread
while Goneril and Edmund whisper
about a red truck in the parking lot.
They forget I killed a man.

I killed a man with a sword I grabbed,
but Goneril stands between me and the window,
between me and any danger outside the window.

I was going to poison you, my sister said before,
but she stands between me and the window.

II. Lake

My sister always looks like a soldier now.
Even here, at this remote place,
in her polka-dot bikini,
leaning back on her elbows
on a towel printed with hibiscus flowers,
she scans the tree line like a hawk.

Our lover is cheerful.
He blows up a plastic pool mattress for me
while I tease and fan him with a magazine.

When I sunbathe on the water,
behind my heart-shaped sunglasses I see them on shore:
his hand sliding over her flat stomach,
reaching between her legs.
And I think how I am floating on his breath
at the same moment.

III. Gas Station

It’s too hot,
waiting in the car.
Too hot waiting beside the car.
Go find your sister,
says Edmund.

I find her in the bathroom.
She’s sitting on the floor,
back against the tiled wall.
On the edge of the sink:
a pregnancy test.
I don’t need to look.
She must have bought it
a few stops back.

She says,
I really thought
it was going to happen this time.

I kneel on the filthy cement
and take her by the hand.


The rotting wood breaks, the rock crumbles into the sea,
something thought solid underfoot is gone.
Witnesses’ brains cannot match the velocity
to make sense of the new landscape
of rubble and screams.

Not as swift, but consistent,
are the proclamations from those who believe
they would never have stood on that cliff or balcony.
They wouldn’t have followed the trail to its vista point end.
At the birthday party, they would have balked like a mule
if invited outside.

I would be one of them,
hoping that despite not having Superman’s flight,
my x-ray vision would reveal all the world’s fissures.

But I saw instead
what I saw on the cliff:
living with gravity
makes us all a potential Icarus.

➥ Bio