“Gender Side Effects and Stars” by Alison Terjek, 2019 Poetry Winter Contest Winner

Beware the nagging possibility
of perpetual violence etched
in shadows of evening trees!
              – the Mother in my head

If I could step out of gender
push the weighty glove
of caution away from mouth
I’d startle every scarecrow
leave no frosted corn field
or rocky outcrop unexplored
by star-stroked solitude.
Make up for all the times
I tapped my brakes near
a crescent licked vista
and couldn’t bring myself
to park beneath the stars.

Stop…the darkness cranks
my heart until it pushes
up my ears.  I’m owed
this forgotten road   nights
bruised tie-dye    glitter-gauze
of milky way without
dreading someone will pull
up behind me    snuff out
the moon  – his face
a fast moving cloud.

For years I joked about
breaking down out here
so I’d have to stay.  Now
I cannot will myself
to park at the pull-off across
from dark-eyed farm houses.
The moon bats it’s lashes
snowy pines light up
the North Star waits
to be found but – what if
keys locked in car?  Or
what if it doesn’t start ?  Or
20 feet away in the field
he escapes the pines  – what if
I’m not fast enough?

Plans can be easily deflated
by the sharp remains
of strangers long ago parties
and a lack of signal.
Imagine kicking boot prints
into night’s snowy shoulder
town snoring on the wrong
side of the mountain.
What if cold creeps under
my clothes coaxing until
I mistake it for warmth?
Or headlights and adrenaline
course through pre-dawn
like a meteor shower and I
have 10 seconds to duck
or wave my arms?

Imagine I walk all night
until red-orange-pinks
crowd out the stars.
I’m the first customer
at the coffee counter
frozen snot stuck to my face
my story traded for tissues
a bewildered clerk     staring
back at me.  You could of
should of died!  she’d say
picking change from my icy glove
If you were my daughter
I’d kill you.


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