In The Belly of It All, a Collection | The New Engagement

In The Belly of It All, a Collection

By Brandi M. Spaethe


What happens when they come in and out 
of my portals, licking spoons over
fresh poured cereal. I thought if I looked
at them closely, I could figure them
out. As if they were a place that could
remain stagnant or preserve like some
desert. However, I lean in and find
when my face dips into their faces, I can't
see anything but myself looking back--at least,
my projected versions of them. So what is it
we can truly know about another person
and what is it that draws us near and pushes
us away? A golden road to tread, a thicket
(your favorite word) or a world ending in
a cellar (where we first kissed) or that
strawberry lip balm (where WE first
kissed) on a stoop. Walk through alleys
at night and you might see through
windows into kitchens or bedrooms, posters
hung on the wall. You might see piles
of unfinished projects in the yard or 
slits of light stamped between blinds. If
you're lucky, you'll see someone outside, too,
in the hot dark, insect air. Walking hard.



Feel My Bones on Your Bones


Maybe the point is we look at happy like an inflatable

raft—can save us when the ship goes under, but it’s not something


we can live on. Angela said she had to go to Madrid

because her brother had emergency surgery but all I can think about


is how I’ll soon be in Madrid, and she’ll be back here, almost passing

planes in the air, forks on one another’s plate. What we’ve never said


is that I have a partner and she has a partner. Instead, let us imagine

that she will meet me on the beach with a small cooler full of Fresca


and will laugh when something is funny. Have you ever listened to a song

in the car with someone who matters, a song you love so badly


you scream it, it screams over you when you press the volume

higher, and you scream it louder? Have you ever looked over at someone


and said, “you know what we should play, don’t you?” Now that’s

what one girl keeps chasing, that’s what she’s been looping in her mind.



You Told Me Boy Look the Other Way


Today, it's truly summer. The window open, this song, this song, this song about loving someone you can't touch. Yes, that's summer. All the green turning brown. I'm leaving. All the waving leaves full of bees. It's summer and I can almost hear the bodies cliff-diving over the lake, feel their suspension before they break the water's gut.


The other evening, we were playing cards and you were looking down at your hand and plucking one card carefully from the folds, sliding it out and lowering it and lowering it and lowering it to kill the rest of our cards, and I watched you deviously. You stared back. Then for longer and for what seemed an eternity before I looked the other way and let out the defeated in my own hand.


We're in transition— you think like a boy they say and I think I think like I think. What do you mean I think like a boy? What does a girl think like? I'm not a girl. I'm not a boy. I'm not a winner in this game of Euchre, either, but I like looking back at you when you destroy this round. I like pressing my lips against the end of the pipe and pulling in all the relief. Your turn.


When I was thirteen, could have been fourteen, those boys said I was too much like them to kiss, saying look at you, dressing like a boy sometimes, but it's also the way you don't brush your hair regularly and it's the way you hold your cigarette and it's the way you can keep up with Smear the Queer and it's the way you're always hanging out, smelling like us, too.


To not know, don't know, eat it alive and feel its body stilling in your teeth. Don't take anything you have to use delicately. Yes, I was looking at you looking at me over that game of cards and I wanted in. Want to sit next to you on the beach and put my cigarette between my boy fingers and lay back and press my nose into my boy armpits and inhale. I'll inhale. I'll inhale and watch the                              

 waves swallow other waves.

Brandi M. Spaethe received her MFA in poetry from Fresno State where she worked for The Normal School. Her poems have appeared in CRATE, Minola Review, and BLOOM, to name a few. Her chapbook, To You Who Wants In, was released in December 2012. Brandi was a poetry fellow in the 2013 Lambda Literary Foundation's Emerging Writer's Retreat. She is the program associate at Poets & Writers' California Office and teaches at Cal State LA.

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