PORTLAND, Cinthia Ritchie

PORTLAND
by Cinthia Ritchie

I fucked the UPS man that summer
I spent in Portland and the pavement 
glimmered in the heat and the cement looked 
so white it blinded me until 
I suddenly knew how it felt to walk in clouds.

I was living in the psych ward
but out on day passes, and all the aides
said how well I was doing, isn’t she doing well,
I was a model patient, except
in the afternoons when I knelt
in the bathrooms of post offices
and blew off the UPS man,
his skin damp and sweaty 
because the air conditioner in his truck
didn’t work worth a damn.

Heat in my veins, my mouth, my blood,
he made me taste and smell flowers:
blood reds and pinks, peach the secret shade
of the skin between my legs. I would weep
when I came, my wrists stretched
tight over my head, palms opening 
and closing around all those colors.

He never knew my name,
only the way my hair flowed around my face
and the songs that leaked from my mouth 
when I came. I told him I was a plant,
a petal, that I opened when he touched
me, but we both knew
it was a lie, that I was nothing more
than flesh, bones, a tongue
that waited flat and heavy between my lips.

When I got out, I spent the first night
in his bed, awake all night listening 
to his chest rise as if the secrets of my life 
might be hidden inside his throat. 
When the room began to lighten, 
I slipped outside, stuck roses inside 
my clothes, those cool, damp petals
kissing my skin as I walked away from him,
down toward the river, where I could only dream
of jumping now that I knew flowers 
grew from the ground and not from  
my greedy, yearning mouth.
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STUTTERING, Cinthia Ritchie

STUTTERING
by Cinthia Ritchie

You know about silence, not the silence
of shaded fields but of nights
where the wind forgets to move
and the flat, salted weight
of your own stupid tongue.
You don't speak unless you have to,
your throat a stingy lump
that refuses to give up words.
The heat of your broken speech
is so great you often escape
to the bathroom,
press your face against cool tiles,
imagining rain or snow or the cold,
clear blast of a freezer door opening.

At a dinner party,
you rub butter over your lips,
press your elbows against
the polished table, smile
at the man with the fraying
cuffs and long, dark fingers until
his body falls in step with yours
and you lead him home, your hands sliding
beneath his shirt, each touch a vowel,
a syllable, a long, teasing hyphen.
There's so much you want to say
you can't keep your tongue away
from his skin: even your saliva
drips words across his chest.

This man talks a lot, whispering
and asking, thanking and demanding,
the moist hum of letters slipping so effortlessly
from his lips that you can't help
biting down, hard, on his neck,
your throat washed with the warm,
slippery taste of his fluent blood.

When he finally leaves you dance
the cat across the room until your teeth ache.
You haven't spoken a word all night
and your voice presses your throat
like newly-splintered wood.
You open your mouth: yell, scream, shout,
your words breaking and snapping
with the useless urgency of damp ash.
Cinthia Ritchie writes and runs mountains in Anchorage, Alaska. Find her work at Sport Literate, Best American Sports Writing 2013, Evening Street Review, Water-Stone Review, Under the Sun, Cactus Heart Press, Daminfo Press, The Boiler Journal, 101 Words and other literary magazines and small presses. Her first novel, Dolls Behaving Badly, was released from Hachette Book Group.