All in by Cynthia Atkins

by Cynthia Atkins

I took my body out of the hand-me-down 
bin. It sagged empty as a winter coat 
on its hanger. Believe it or not, once it was chased
by a town-car of clowns—The drunken 
pimpled sons of sons of sons 
of the Ku Klux Klan.  
            I was a Jew, a Jew.
My body had kinky hair and a crooked nose.
Not like the girls with bowling-pin white teeth
and doily-tanned toes. The blood of a Jew 
           on my virgin Kmart underwear.
They shadowed me down aisles, 
into a junkyard purgatory of broken toys.    
          God’s drunk at 2 am 
when the fluorescent lights
hone in on the Denny’s bathroom. 
Interrogating every truth and blemish.  
           I did it in the graffiti-riddled stall, 
staring down a cracked toilet. My body’s 
tongue forced on his dark pulse.  
He squeezed my head so hard, 
          it burned a hole in time. 
I counted the headstones 
of my people, like tiny boats 
in an inlet. One by one, they saved me.  
The cuts and wounds filled 
not with blood, but umpteen years 
       of Sweet’N Low and sadness.      
I’m easy, tell me what I want to hear
”Your face is damn ugly.”
The next day, 
“Kike” and “Slut” Magic Markered 
on my locker— a swastika like a jungle gym
for the dead. My name scrawled in every 
defiled bathroom stall—Our calls
       hollow in the wax of God’s ear.

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Cynthia Atkins is the author of Psyche’s Weathers and In The Event of Full Disclosure, and the forthcoming collection, Still-Life With God. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals, including Alaska Quarterly Review, Apogee, BOMB, Cleaver Magazine, Denver Quarterly, Diode, Florida Review, Flock Lit, Green Mountains Review, Los Angeles Review, North American Review, Rust + Moth, SWWIM Every Day, Tampa Review, andVerse Daily, among others. She lives in Rockbridge County, VA with her family. More info at www.cynthiaatkins.com or @catkinspoet.

by Cynthia Atkins

It has been steam cleaned

in 10 states. Slapped by a mother

spat on by a boss. This is how

everything is fine until it is not.

            It changed its mind

like umbrellas brought

on all the wrong days. 

It wore shoulder pads and burned

          a husband with a curling iron. 

It called 911. It did what it had to do. 

It held your bag of hygiene, oily

perfume, rotten teeth. Joy and pain

          live on the same street.  

It has an expiration date.  

It hung in the closet like a bad check.

It flagged all the pools of blood

        and the grief of mothers.

It was a dirge of old wars and vacant

parking lots. It was the place I sat alone

and cried all nightmare long.  

It is a junkyard clock

        with dog-chewed hands. 

It is God mouthing the anthem

I never learned. It gnawed

        at the wind shield, made of rain.  

It sat in a diner all night long, waiting

for the lord or the guy with a day job

        to take his knife home.  

This is the lake that lives within the skin,

that lives with an illness that dangles 

like a yo-yo on a string. And another body

       beget out of mine, long and wide

as the Rio Grande. The body just wants

something loyal and divine,

     a dog’s eyelids fluttering in sleep.

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Cynthia Atkins is the author of Psyche’s Weathers and In The Event of Full Disclosure, and the forthcoming collection, Still-Life With God. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals, including Alaska Quarterly Review, Apogee, BOMB, Cleaver Magazine, Cultural Weekly, Diode, Florida Review, Flock Lit, Green Mountains Review, Le Zaporogue, Los Angeles Review, North American Review, Rust + Moth, Sweet: A Literary Confection, Tampa Review, and Verse Daily, and have been nominated for Pushcart and Best of The Net. Atkins teaches creative writing at Blue Ridge Community College and lives on the Maury River of Rockbridge County VA with her family. See more at www.cynthiaatkins.com.