A new poem by Emily Skillings

September 20, 2017  By Emily Skillings


A muted video of two clean white women mouthing “lifestyle.”
They approach a produce cart, one sniffs an orange
and full-smiles, one a holds a quartered watermelon
with both hands and hunches over to put her grinning face to it
like it’s the National Chosen Thing.
The smiles/sniffs aren’t in perfect step, but flow
over each other’s unique timing like a double-pour
into the ideal combined face. They hold hands
over dirty radishes, gently finger swaths
of multicolored lettuce, and squint
into a microbiome sun. One says “inside out,”
and a pink cartoon colon materializes between them.

I’ve named the women Peggy and Polly
because they are obviously cultural twins, just different
enough to allow for variations in stripe thickness
on a linen shirt or exact pupillary distance.
A slightly rounded front tooth glints from their daytime
into my surrounding night, where I sit in my own territory
of acute bedding, letting pictures dart at brain
and throat and domes of cartilage.
And what do you know one second Peggy’s Polly
the next Polly’s Peggy. So (rattled)
I minimize the window that has opened between us
and take the dog’s photo and move books from one room

to another. Just last week Milla serenaded me over the phone
with a composition of impressively accurate puffin calls,
low groany honks, lamenting her choice
to produce these same sounds in a moment of panic
for Pinky, a prospective male lover at the TV studio
where they are mutually employed. I told her
about the “slow release” method of dating, a capsule-based
recommendation to issue your personality to another
in small, border-blended increments, like picture your identity
as coated in a porous and slowly dissolving barrier.
It wears away and you hand yourself over, secrete gestures
and sounds from your core into their dull receptacle.

The only thing I can do is write poems
for those who’d like me vaporized. A woman on another coast
writes public notes I think are about me
because I am fucking her beloved. She writes
he should be embarrassed, and I think of my humiliation
as a badge, a subterranean violet gas gaining volume
and beauty. Her poems are sparse and sad and plain,
like natural occurrences under blue light
in one of the more mountainous states, and I often think
“you can have him,” and consider that maybe it is her I want
and that we’ve created, in our mutual and aligned upset,
a transcontinental bile pipeline to transport horrors of our love.

I suspect I am irrevocably vain and demented
and that people can sense this but I see no way out
other than to keep touching her, my sister in sadness,
through the screen with my weathered thumb.
I’m becoming obsessed with a woman I’ve never met
I write my Upper East Side therapist. I watch a video
of a goat dying and another goat mourning it by bowing
its head and chest to the ground. I watch a video of a small girl
terrified of her own shadow, one where the beauty
of synchronized movement collapses into a horrible accident,
and another in which a procession of Highplains white-tails
cross the bluest water ever seen, moving shore

to shore with a calm that should probably solve something
but doesn’t. As a young girl, I devised a makeshift pet
by keeping a bowl of water in my room and refilling it fresh
every few days, and I’m not clear if the bowl was the pet
or if the pet was the water or some combination of the two,
but it was something I cared for against days and weeks
of loneliness. So now I’m here, she’s over there,
and then we cross to switch places. Now I’m still “here,”
and she I suppose is “over there.” How odd
after all that walking. And one second Peggy’s Polly
the next Polly’s Peggy as expected. Something inherits me
and I go straight to it without hesitation, the way

one adjustable square of experience covers another, then disappears.
The last time I was late it was to a class about women and writing.
The last time I felt happy I was vacuuming and blew a fuse.
The last time I went somewhere new
it was only two hours away and not very good.
Tomorrow, earlyish, I might purchase a century’s worth
of cut fruit and arrange it across the table
in the hopes of ushering in some new state
of thinking and embodiment, but as of now, right now,
these two blondes I trust are leaning a flower against
its neighboring flower, and telling me that with their help
my skin will start to glow.

Emily Skillings
Emily Skillings
Emily Skillings is the author of Fort Not (The Song Cave, 2017), as well as two chapbooks, Backchannel (Poor Claudia) and Linnaeus: The 26 Sexual Practices of Plants (No, Dear/ Small Anchor Press). She is a member of the Belladonna* Collaborative, a feminist poetry collective, small press, and event series, and splits her time between Brooklyn and Hudson, New York.

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