It happens behind the church
that used to be a dentist office.
The boy you like rips the tails
off all the lizards you named.
Legs crisscrossed, you watch them
run away half-bodied, tails left wiggling
behind on hot pavement. ¡Los mataste!
You shout and he smiles like he’s telling you
a secret you don’t want to know.
Gafa, they’re still alive, see?
Offers you the torso, arms flailing in his grasp.
The tail — it just grows back.
You collect frogs, hundreds of them.
Tiny ones you call baby, pretend birth
in the tub before Mamá is home.
One by one you hold them in your hand,
kiss their heads before they jump
on your knees, call to them by name.
When you start school, your teacher
walks you towards the tank in the back
of the class where everything is still dark.
You follow the green light leaking from the
glass where a bent plant sits amidst foggy water,
bulging bellied creatures circling an island
made up of small rocks and electrical wire.
Watch black inkblots swarm along the panels,
the closer you get the more they terrify you,
make you wail and run outside.
Your teacher chases after you,
laughing. Gabi, they’re tadpoles!
Hasn’t anyone ever told you?
That’s where frogs come from.
At Yolanda’s pool party you stare at the tank of
sea turtles in the lobby of the community center,
listen to the sounds of the other girls screaming
while the boys yank their legs underwater.
By now you have learned the shape of your body
in skin tight swimsuits and shirts clinging to the wet outline
of a bikini top. Memorize the stomachs of all the
girls in your class. In the bathroom where you all change
wet bottom around your ankles, urine sprinkled
along the toilet seat you sit, thighs pouring over
the rim. Stare at the ankles of the brave ones changing
together, comparing breast sizes. You want to be
less quiet, less strange, less space. You imagine
intertwining arms with them, confessing
embarrassing stories to each other.
You watch their feet outside the stall, how
they move with each squeal and shriek and
lip balm shared secret and they move like they
are clumsy dancing until they leave in laughter,
together. Curl and uncurl toes in the puddle
of chlorine and mildew, awkward hatching of
something foreign crawling towards the first light
you see — the moon’s reflection on water,
just a sea of streetlights.
In Florida every nice neighborhood sits
next to a swamp, an El Dorado furniture,
a motel where the curtains are always drawn.
There’s no hiding here, no use in blotting sweat stains.
Hair always curls here, makeup always runs here,
skin always blisters and burns on sand on metal
slides on car seats on pavement on patio chairs.
Humidity sticks to the windows to the wallpaper
to your mind, makes a grown woman break
in the middle of the check-out aisle at Wal-Mart.
People come here to die, leave their pets
behind in the lonely red light of an ambulance.
You are raised on field trips where you pry open
the mouth of an alligator in some swampy marsh of land,
where Indian statues greet you at the door. Power of your ma’s
broom when snakes rise from the mouths of all the toilets,
mob of fire ants gnawing at your teacher’s feet
fumbling through their angry pit, everything here invades.
You are splayed open by boys who cook
crickets under a magnifying lens, steal the snout
of a pig during dissection. In this place, where everything
is bubbling and awake, everywhere is a pavement on fire.
Look down, all the tails left behind,
they’re still moving.
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