Ocean City; Maybe Antelope; This Body Is Not
By: Amanda Hartzell
Outside the dark is a whole mouth
of the sea. A vacation car on gravel moves
the teeth. If you’re hungry enough for taffy
you can eat through one mouth into another
and your teeth go bad at some other age
an island and a spoken life away.
In that one, curtains. In this one, fat starfish
waving hello. The hotel holds sand and ladies
slippers in pastel frames. All the rooms
identical except for the chlorine children,
so alike they go for pizza with different families.
At night awake with lamp posts we visit fortune tellers --
we’re so bored and hopeful. We’re so smooth and
devastated. There is light on your eyelids like I
have never seen. From the hotel window
a crowd creates ruckus on the shore. If you squint
you can tell it’s just one person, breaking bottles.
Sand is very small glass and August tinier, especially after
we find the stingray rotting in the froth. Fly in gulls,
white and black. They descend on boardwalk fries while
immobile glorious leeches cheer on. If you know
someone who’s drowned, do they ever swim
back to you with ice cream?
This place is full of antelope who will sit and eat
popsicles with you. They are better than cats
and way better than your first
boyfriend. They are better kissers
even but cold because of the popsicles. It was
the Fourth of July seven years ago
and we must startle awake, remembering.
Firecrackers shiver in the field glowing in
plastic. If you light them they scream. If you
don’t light them they scream also. No one
is waiting for you to do anything. Have you
met the antelope yet? Not all of them are
antelope. In case of prairie grass fire please stand
on all fours and keep blinking the shapes back
into your eyes. Make a sound like a person.
Try your best to be still and maybe even real.
This Body Is Not
This body I came with is really doing
a spectacular job. Cleaned itself
this morning, sat poking the soft flesh.
Made orange juice, made a joke, took itself
into the garden to remark how bright and green
things were, not exploding even though
we could only hear the explosions. The body
wondered if instead it could feel good and
conducted experiments, many involving hair,
before determining yes it could. It ranks pleasure
on a scale of expected-to-blistering,
and that’s nice I think, that the worst pleasure
can be is expected. Bullets and a throat arrive
in the garden, new friends. We show them out
and give directions. The body has now decided
to engage in salutes, escapades, missteps, regrets,
feats, apologies, strategies. If you squint it looks
like dancing, ice cream, moonlight.
If you don’t, it looks a terror.
You’d think this would take some time
but it doesn’t. Hardly anything does.
Thinking about anything is the most exhausting part.
While the body is briefly occupied what’s left of me
goes out and traps a yellow bird with a box. The sound
it makes shut up inside lets me know it’s real.
The shaking lets me know there’s a sound, and
that the sound is packaged in the shape of a bird. The body
is not interested in gifts, so it says, but this is not a gift,
no promise or comfort. Just listen. Just watch.
I open the box slowly while the body watches.
Inside is a shape of a bird
but it is not a bird. It is the explosions.
Think carefully, says the body from its shape
like a body, if this is the story you want to tell.
Amanda Hartzell received her MFA from Emerson College in Boston. Her work has appeared in New Letters, Paper Darts, Midway Journal, and The Knicknackery among others. Her stories won the Alexander Patterson Cappon Prize and finished as finalists in Glimmer Train.
Originally from eastern PA, she now lives in Seattle with her son, husband, and their dog.