Florida Chronicles

Gabriella Balza

(On Love)

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.


(On Identity)

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.


(On Belonging)

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.


(On Leaving)

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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