The 2River View  

Michelle BittingListen

Soft Red Skirt

That’s what she wore, followed his wolf-shaped
face up the mountain path—Summer, the swelter
of eucalyptus, lavender, dilating every cell.

Was it curiosity brought her here, the subtle growl
inside his laugh? Between them, a quarter century years’
difference and two pair of eyes rife with off-kilter craving?

Maybe the way he preferred she lead, parting
milkweed, beach burr, thistle, along the switchback,
the better to view her shifting rump as they gobbled the trail,

reminding her of that Easter at her parents’,
bending to pull lamb from the oven,
her flowered dress hiking up, father in the corner

with his cronies, their secret, murmured words:
sweet flesh young singeing the air, making
her cringe, years later, at any sudden scent of rosemary.

Her soft red insides closing then,
opened now, with this man’s hand on her ass,
key to the body’s cabin. The quandary odd,

familiar, like that tale by the Brothers Grimm
about the poodle made to eat flaming coal—
the nourishment it took from its blistering fare,

muzzle dipping in to relish what burned in the tasting—
each time, the tongue left bruised and blackened.

Washed in Flame

And no one can still recognize the woman washed in flame
for whom, of all her joys, burnt pearls in ashes is the sum
of what remains.

—Abraham Sutzkever

She makes a matchstick of her finger,
dunks the tip in Bombshell Red,
then her lips are two flickers.
In the shadows of her ears: smoldering 
flowers. Draws a smoky line
between lid and lash and dashes out—
at the crowded rear of the oncologist’s elevator:
one last fanning of her mahogany skirt.

Don’t try to follow the logic,
this need for ritual preening, seduction.
Whether the doctor’s even aware
of silk swishing between her legs.
It’s pointless, futile as asking why
her cells’ crooked kindling, the gathered
deadwood, amass their morbid camp
deep in her body’s core.

Just remember the pretty Polish girl,
pinching her cheeks for the German soldier.
Zierpuppe, he said, lifting her onto the truck.
As if it mattered her eyes were two hazelnuts,
her skin: beaded milk. So lovely, so worth saving,
am I not?  And he, head cocked, smiling,
pretending not to know
what awaited her, further on up the road.