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Shivering Light

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Three strands of dark hair caught in the zipper
of her fur lined coat she inherited from her older cousin,
no loose threads, only a missing button on the left pocket,
a tomato sauce stain on the right.
Against a bare collarbone
she bears metal chains
under the thinnest layer of gold paint,
receiving heat but giving back the cold.
If she walks with her weight on her four-inch heels, her toes will pinch less,
twenty-five fifty well spent.
The crystals thrown around her wrists
around her calloused fingers
stabbed through cartilage
steal the withering light for themselves.
She gets none.
The night is still young.

If she could still smell summer in car exhaust
she would cast point-toed plastic into the bay,
fish her blackened flip flops out of the closet
entangle her curls into a frayed topknot.
She’d trade Cup Noodles for clementines,
textbooks for Jane Austin,
Starbucks for lemonade.
As the couples breathe past on tandem bikes
like watercolors running off a page
too glossy for its pigments,
she’ll fix her heavy-lidded eyes on the sun’s confident complexion
rising like orange smoke,
watch the sweat race down her freckled arms
and skyscrapers shiver with the heat from concrete steps.

But this is December, and the city’s still stubborn;
Hibernation is for the one-percenters,
like all the rest, she’s got to have her feet rooted in the asphalt.
For a week she’s turned her back on
red red red checks and circles and
darkened eraser shavings stuck on her elbows.
Someday, she thinks,
she’ll hold a camera in her hands—the ones that print
memories in black squares
and time will puff life into them
as long as you don’t touch.
No more cords attached, of course.
Everything, they’d always told her, must happen within the moment,
or it becomes meaningless.
If she had her way, she’d take snapshots
of yellowed spotlights lining the streets,
oily rainbows trapped in murky puddles,
her own elongating shadow.

For now, she daydreams about silver spoons and fairy godmothers,
maybe a prince charming with both.
Her nightmares are made of careless mascara
stained aprons,
ten dollars on a table.
Her reality is just a name on a roster,
on contracts
and a library card.
Yet someday she’ll say that these were her years,
as if she never cried over spilled quarters.



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