Magnolia

In the cul-de-sac shaded
by trees, Marissa and I
played all summer where magnolias
hung, hands withering over us
as we wove
 
between them. In her backyard
we circled the empty,
dirty pool where petals and leaves
floated, where insects waded. We came to a shed
hidden in the back
 
corner of her yard; jars held pale, slick
shapes, cylindrical and bulbed, only
later I learned were preserved
vegetables. Marissa swore they were
 
testicles and a penis, and when I didn’t believe her, no –
they were fingers, eyes, and tongues
her step-father collected, who later that day
I met by mistake. He’d come home early,
 
liquor on his breath, speaking
slowly, quietly, and only
in Spanish, though I was also in that congested
room where every curtain was
closed and the air thick
 
with heat, whispering. And Marissa’s face
stiffening into a mask, glazed
with sweat, her eyes cast
down as he punched
 
the air, each syllable a balled-up
fist. Marissa told me then
I wasn’t allowed inside her
house anymore. Outside, as if
to apologize, she picked me
 
a magnolia blossom. And I carried it
carefully in my sweating
hands, not yet understanding
by the time I got home
 
the petals would no longer be
white but darkening everywhere
they’d been touched.
 
 
Ely Shipley’s first book of poems, Boy with Flowers, won the Barrow Street Book Prize judged by Carl Phillips and the Thom Gunn Award. His poems and essays appear in Gulf Coast, Western Humanities Review, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. He is an Assistant Professor of English at Baruch College-CUNY.