Polaroids of God from My Eleventh Summer

Emily Borgmann

1: From the Tent Set up in the Backyard

For a moment you vacated your crown of sacrifice,

bibley jesus god of my mother,

and blood dripped down my forehead instead.

In my eyes, the red drop a cloud on top of water.

I’d just passed a cigarette to the girl

two years younger than me, cloud sting

folded over the sky and the tent

where we hid from June afternoon light,

humid air the humid breath stuck

inside my sticky eye corner, you told me

I needed to reel back that Marlboro,

she was too young, it was too soon

to invest in coughs like those our fathers shared

over Busch Light beers numbering impossible,

bleeding from eyes, it turned out,

was the conscience showing itself, even if

she’d develop the habit like I had already at eleven,

the taste for smoke, the need to watch

evidence of breath coming in,

curling out, I’m still here. She handed it back,

I smelled the skinsides of my knuckles

burn when I pulled the lit softness back from her,

it’s difficult to hold a cigarette’s thin waist

without crushing it when you first learn.

I unzipped the tent so she could stumble out,

breathe clean air. In the backyard that day,

you let me free a version of my mistaken self

from one of my mistakes, you,

the bibley jesus three-headed type god,

god of Marlboros thin like other girls, breathing.


2: From the Highway I Walked in My Speedo

That summer I wore a Speedo swimsuit

two sizes too small because the brand

let me feel smaller and Olympic-sponsored

and the color made me feel like a body burned

blue gray, fabric metallic, taste of fleshmelt smoke

that tongued its way into my mouth

every time the charred bodies filled my eyes

from lower lashes to the top of my head

slicked clean off, some clean blade

mining my memory. It was my first hallucination:

it circled round and pillowed open

my sleep’s soft stomach with its needled fingers.

Blue sky tarped over me as I walked

my four-mile country road walk, farmers called

the loop a section. I walked alone and thrilled

a little every time a car slowed down to ask

if I needed a ride, felt my torso melt from my spine

until it hung sticky from the waistband

of the canvas pants I’d pulled on over the Speedo.

Never when the car slowed to take me —

or was it overtake? — did I wonder where the stranger

could take me other than some palace where

the studs were girlmatter-stripped bones, I imagined

that, where we’d go, the basement floor tasted

like metal, salt, dirt, limes. I imagined

but on this walk had seen: sky blue through to bone,

then cloud-choked, suddenly, thick welted

clouds like factory fire. I walked past the steel factory,

so I stopped, watched, waited. A trumpet interrupted,

tiny horn dropped cartoon into a corner of the sky —

it inhaled just once, sucked up all the smoke, every cloud.

What happened. What had happened, gone.

My brain still searching the palace, darting from body

to body. I turned to walk back down the hill to my house,

my eyes trained back to the gravel I kicked up, stones

burying themselves in my shoes, blistering

my soft soles — were you the trumpet, god,

or the sky? The getaway car that never hearsed me,

or my organs melted down to dull gravel

shoeing me burned — were you ever the sun?


3: From the Seat of the Riding Lawn Mower

Vodka my body more than water by fourteen,

but first, scotch at eleven, and the very first: beers,

warm ones, left in the four-car garage

filled with junk my mother screamed at my father

about every time he came home for a weekend

every other weekend or so, my hands alone

flipping the tabs of eleven warm beers. Drinking alone,

I saw you from the seat of the riding lawn mower,

the one my mother didn’t let us use since

the gear stuck that summer, and she couldn’t turn away,

cut herself in half driving into the barbed wire fence.

I want to ask you while I’m here, motionless,

if you were ever the fence, or were you the gear?

The scream my mother’s guts bled onto the grass,

or the scream she gave to warn my sister and me —

You girls stay away from me! First, she’d screamed

my father’s name for help — we’d never heard her need

him like that. God, you looked like scotch,

like hell, like dusty old can metal drinking me

empty empty empty — god, I admit I heard nothing

when you spoke to the congregation, so I stopped

listening, but I could still find you when whistling

through a blade of grass on our house’s grassy acre,

I found you in the dizzy walk from forbidden

machine to garage and back, swaying, that first hard drunk.

My mouth the next morning stung, tasted of the fields

surrounding me, my head a lightning bolt,

finally oh finally I prayed without assignment,

that morning the first time my head felt fit for my body,

what was done to it, the answer to prayer is

when you first know the size of your own pain, stop asking.


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