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Isabel Mader

Flesh Offering

I forgot you never pick up,
she laughs like a magpie into my voice mail,
too high to remember I don't call back.
I feel her nails down my back, air whistles
through a sudden hole in my chest.
I replay her dozy laugh again.

Come visit me.
She still lives in the beige house where we hid
behind her bed. Eleven, her hand over my mouth.
Oldest brother searched downstairs for her, flesh offering:
a gift to his friends who'd tear into her like wolves.
Between her and the door, I pressed her against the wall,
quaking. That day, he didn't find her.

When I visit home, I drive past, see if her car's there.
I have no intention of stopping.

Come visit me.
Her hand up my shirt, mine in her hair, glitter
grape lip gloss up to my nose, end of summer.
One boy at the party had a crush on her.
He came around the corner: Fucking dyke! Dykes!
Swung hard with his right fist; I pushed her down,
covered her with my bird body.
She kissed my bruised back gingerly after,
wished me happy fourteenth birthday.

Sometimes I put lip gloss on. For a few minutes,
before furiously wiping my mouth clean.

Come visit me.
She met a man in high school, too many years
older than us. Ketamine dust under her long fingernails,
chipped purple polish. I argued with him in the parking lot
about a hospital, my house, her limp arm falling
out of his passenger seat. She's easier this way,
he laughed coarsely, drove off.
I cried hotter than the May afternoon asphalt.

If I drink on summer evenings, I'm always watching her leave;
gasoline shimmering like eyes before tears.
I replay her dozy laugh. I've spent years flushing her from my veins.


There is an ally:
two strip clubs, a gaping pit for a foundation.
He fell out of a doorway,
sweating eighty proof, grinning hazy
at me: walking home alone.

Sometimes I dream that I am being hunted.
Deer—dear mouse—I am tortured
by the uncertainty of being prey.
I used to watch my cats stalk bugs,
reach out a fatal, godly paw.

When I passed, he grabbed me.
My stomach roiled at his touch.
He clutched my arm, told me,
"I'm coming home with you."

Sometimes I still dream of the searing
fingerprints on my flesh—
Deep bruise, crimson petals so defined
I could almost see ridges and whorls of identity.
I swear they resurface.

There is always a knife in my pocket.
I pulled it, held it aloft:
metal wing of broken bird, it flew
open with a click.
He let go, cursing me.

I stumbled, silent shaking starling.
I am covered in the spit of men;
slick with their entitlement.
But I am saturated colors.
I am deeper than the mouth of hell.
I am untouchable and clean.

As I backed away, I sweat rivulets and rivers.
I crossed the road backwards,
crowned in streetlight, bathed in salt water
and the glow of traffic.


The second man who cracked me open
loved the gum I chewed.
Sweet like spearmint; I opened my mouth wider,
did what I was told. Sometimes,
I ache to go back

to his bed, his car, the parking lots,
always deserted. I chew the same gum.
He bends over me, reveals vulnerable flesh.
I sink sharpened teeth into his thigh,
sugared saccharine. Rip meat from bone
and strip him of his armor because it's only fair
that we both be naked. Tendons
get caught in my teeth, minty, chewy.
Veins, strands of his life on my tongue,
sweet iron searing itself into my throat.
Gum swallowed long ago.
I open my mouth, dislocate my jaw,
keep biting.

If I am satisfied, before he dies,
with how much of my pain he knows,
I let him live. Smear bloody hands
along his car as I leave, match the paint perfectly.

➥ Bio