Aspecta Medusa, or Why I Let Him
To lose your head over a boy
to want him so badly you’d offer
anything. I mean throat. I mean tongue. What
I mean is, even Spring can be talked
into flowering too early.
Of course, I’d heard the stories about him.
My sisters had been around, were familiar.
They exchanged knowing glances as they
hummed their dirge, each of us jockeying
for the mirror before school. Mama used to call it
putting on our faces. The cupid lips. The apple
cheeks. All us girls trying to get it
just right. The look.
To be the fruit.
To be the one he’d pick.
On our first date, strolling home
from the movies, night perfumed
with pear and fig and his arm locked
around my neck, he joked about
a threesome with the redhead slinging
popcorn. From between the blades
of sweet grass, crickets fluted a warning.
I punched him in the arm, lightly. Laughed
as girls will. Lightly. He hung
his jacket around my shoulders
But next time I kept my eye on her.
What I want to say is: after the first time
I could have left him except he started crying
about his dead-beat dad, about shouldering the world’s
weight. I think he wanted to love me.
When he placed my hand over the grief
blazing in his chest I could practically
see through him. How many girls
get to heal
A good head on her shoulders,
that’s what they used to say about me.
As if being sensible can protect a girl.
As if a foolish girl deserves less blame.
The night he ended things,
I was asleep, dreaming of my sisters
in our mother’s kitchen, the three
of us gathered at her skirts. She was
singing, rolling out sugared dough,
our stomachs cramping with desire.
When she looked away, I snuck
just a morsel, its sweetness still melting
my tongue when I opened my eyes
and saw his sword drawn, tears
polishing his hero’s jaw.
I pulled aside my collar,
turned my head into the pillow.
Made it easier for him.
Elizabeth Johnston Ambrose
Elizabeth Johnston Ambrose's work appears in The Atlantic, McSweeney’s, Mom Egg Review, Emrys, Women Studies Quarterly, Feminist Formations, and Room, among others. She is the author of two chapbooks: Wild Things, (Main Street Rag, 2021) and Imago, Dei (Rattle Chapbook Poetry Prize, 2022). A community college professor and co-founder of the Rochester-based writing group Straw Mat Writers, she lives in Rochester, NY, with her partner, two daughters, and four rescue animals.
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