Nude before the mirror, she scrutinizes
her sapling legs and the ant-bite swell
of breasts, searching for some allure
there. She fingers the gold sequined
thong, then steps into it
the way she’d cross a low wall.
Sliding into heels, she grasps
her hips. Sashay, she thinks,
sashay like the harried Bugs Bunny
swaying until Elmer Fudd
goes walleyed. The suede bra
tsk-tsks shut between her breasts.
She struts around an imagined pole
and down the hall to her roommates.
Karma clinches it, says: you’ll kill
them at the club. While Ty says nothing,
his irises widening into a dark sea.
She must be a lithe rabbit now, swift
to elude, twitching her hips
until each Elmer Fudd changes
from a hunter with a gun
to a hunter without one.
Watch Elmer Fudd’s face bloom pink,
his cheek wilting down to his shoulder.
See how he clasps his hands under his chin, whispering
“Isn’t she lovely.” Because Bugs Bunny blots his lips,
lengthens his lashes, boosts his bustle,
when he bats his eyes, Elmer blinks back,
lifts one knee above the other, softening
his body into curves that reflects the feminine bend
to the looking glass.
Is this the mirror’s crooning, its call for each girl
to turn her head and lift her shoulder? How something
in her stance seems to sing just for you?
Her table is set: vegetable soup ladled
into three blue bowls, glasses of tea poured
and left sweating on the red Formica, a platter
of buttered cornbread placed as centerpiece.
Outside the baby’s room, she cracks the door
to look in. She hears her husband and his buddy
coming from the porch. What the friend says about her
she doesn’t quite catch: her good cooking or looks.
Her husband hears something double-edged in it
(just Sunday pretty, not a Friday-night fox), a barb
needling him to boast, “that and she was a stripper.”
“Shit, I knew that from looking,” his friend replies.
Because heat crackles her face, she lingers
knowing the friend’s eyes will fall on her
as blunt as a chisel when she returns.
Even now she feels her husband’s gaze
sweeping over her, a sculptor’s hand sanding
the arc of her hip. She waits for a coolness
to rise inside her, like that of marble, how Galatea
must have felt while she was still stone.
The flirt of their plumes and the flaunting of their ribbon tails
enrapture us. Of paradise, we breathe, as the parotia lifts
his feathers, baring his legs to dance for the females nearby.
Of the riflebird who sways his head behind flared wings
appearing to be a headless wooer, we say magnificent.
For the bird that raises his azure breast into the shape
of a wide mouth the title is Superb. The lure of this bird
beguiles us, we believe he desires to be what dance sculpts
from his body: a face mirroring our own, mouth agleam
with the same blue hunger of his fashioned eyes.
I unzip my skirt and unsnap my suede bra.
The stage lights veil the stares and smiles.
In silhouette, men lift pints of beer or open
their wallets. Those shadows never reach me.
I see a guy’s eyes only if he stands by the stage,
holds dollars at his chest, shy boy offering
a bouquet. When he bites a bill, I bend
to pluck it with my teeth. Our lips touch
nothing but the dollar’s calla lily furl.
I don’t feel him when I run my fingernails
along his jaw or toss my hair over his neck
and shoulders. When he lifts a rolled dollar
toward my hip, I snap my G-string over it.
That paper finger never pulls the thin fabric down;
it never traces the curve of my waist. Then he is gone,
folded back into the row of paper dolls lining the walls.
Under the lights, my shadow multiplies,
each another petal blossoming from my feet.
Later, I smooth dollar after dollar flat.
Each pictures the head of a bodiless man,
from each rises a perfume not quite floral
more of a musk muddled by thousands of hands.
What gleams? A pearl:
orbit of opulence
hardened around a sliver
of salt or a slight crag of sand,
the singing moon
wooing lover to lover:
come a little bit closer,
let me bite your lip.
Come morning the cotton
goes to the gin (a burr hidden
in the cloudy whisper of bolls).
and purple hulls fill my bowl.
The hulls open to strands
of peas, each a pale bead
with a dark eye peering
from its green sheen.
what is pearl
but some grit
an oyster turned round
and round, wishing
she could spit?
Tina Mozelle Braziel, a graduate of the University of Oregon MFA program, directs the Ada Long Creative Writing Workshop at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Cincinnati Review, Poetry South, Birmingham Poetry Review, Main Street Rag, and The Raleigh Review, among other journals. She and her husband, novelist James Braziel, live and write in a glass cabin that they are building on Hydrangea Ridge. Selected by Rochelle Hurt.