Bio Note: I live in the Santa Cruz Mountains near San Francisco. I repair houses and lately among wildfires try to clear defensible space in the landscape. As a poet I’m coming to realize we all need some form of defensible space.
Cold day in a cool city she walks without shoes down Telegraph Hill. Stops at a shattered bottle outside Cafe Trieste. Stoops, plucks with delicate fingers green spits of glass like petals of a flower. Drops them into a white paper bag. People stop, stare. Maybe mental? She’s unconcerned, gathering glass, legs unshaved below a wool dress, toes splayed monkey-like for balance. Pimples cluster, spatter her face. A body stout, not stylish. A smile of inner peace. Three young men pause, snicker. “Hey!” one shouts. “Don’t you know you’re ugly?” They laugh. She’s humming, gathering broken glass.
Originally published in Red Eft Review
Migration, Judah Streetcar, San Francisco
“You have the face of an otter.” She sits beside him, the only open seat. “Yip,” he says imitating an otter’s bark, then wonders Do otters bark? He, professor of anthropology, white man with red beard recently divorced taking the Judah streetcar to campus where he will conduct a seminar on Incan migration patterns. She, to his practiced eye, of Native American bone structure and flesh (smooth, flawless) dressed to mop hallways and swab toilets. Pleasantly he asks “Do you like otters?” “We used to roast them on a stick,” she says. “First we’d sell the pelts.” From her body he feels warmth, glow, like from a campfire. “Are you making fun of me?” he asks. “No. I would marry you.” Awkwardly he laughs. “Now you’re making fun.” “No no. I would marry you.” And it comes to him: You, I, we could make beautiful babies. At the campus stop as on a leash he follows black hair braided like strips of leather, a tassel like a tail over her butt. She steps to the crowd. Gone. A sharp pain in his leg as if caught in the steel jaws of a trap. Where did she go? Why is he here? A river of students part for his island, splash at his rocks.
Originally published in Sheila-Na-Gig
©2021 Joe Cottonwood
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