Three Poems by Mary-Kim Arnold


“None of us is leading quite the life we were at all prepared for.”
               -Renata Adler, Speedboat


people are starting to come back but they        are not the right people
people are moving away but they are not the right people
I have said terrible things and I          have meant them


you say tell him I sent you tell him         rust is seeping in through the dents
don’t you see it        it is starting already look closely         when it rains

don’t you see it


we ate and drank in our work clothes and we        laughed
we were canaries      in coal mines and birds in the hand

anyway my point was       anyway         this was my point

we grew up poor       we spent our days on beach chairs lined up
on the blacktop we were thirsty          we thumbed through

drugstore magazines


now in your city      light slices across the damp grass in the late afternoon now
in your city you offer        your white belly to the sun          dog city

all your dogs


female fig wasps lay eggs in figs you tell me but if she enters
the wrong kind of fig she will die           trapped inside and

so hungry        we were riding the escalator down to the train
platform and you               turned to me don’t you see it

it is starting already

the brush of your hand on my knee as we rode       the train in silence
facing forward        barely breathing

don’t you see it



I tell you that I am afraid of dying and you shrug it off          you say
age is just a number like the price of beef or of        real estate

nearly two thousand square feet           but the neighborhood
is in transition         and by that she means she is afraid

to walk at night         after you left         for the last time it rained
for days it        rained and water collected at the entrance        to the

tunnel        your hands          still imprinted on my
shoulders from when you          flattened me against the tunnel wall

you weren’t listening         you were watching for children to run
past us chasing a stray ball or collecting sticks      it rains

and then it doesn’t         real estate is bought            and sold
you pressed so hard         against me you left bruises           later

I undressed        slipped rainwater from        my shoulders
let it fall          to the floor and left it there      like my sweater still

buttoned in approximation       of this fragile human form



what set off the smoke alarm this morning        you know I would watch
all the buildings of this city burn down to the ground if I could

do you remember the days we floated past the grand fazioni in the lagoon
how I wanted more          how I wanted all the men who grinning beneath

the wide brims of their straw hats licked their lips          their trousers creased
all the women draped in sundresses soaked through to their rosebud nipples

let us praise all the books of maps we drew with our fingers while we
floated on our backs         drifting        dissolving the funnel clouds that swallowed up

all the smaller acts of weather         waterspout landspout tornado
they called our tornado a rare occurrence         as if that were enough to explain us

as if that were enough to explain my preoccupation with the birthmark
on your left ear         I have sketched all the embattled plazas in the dirt

have given names to all the sacred places      called them st cecilia’s lantern and
st. lucie’s wishing well and st. sebastian’s balustrade and turret        write this down

down at the piazza we will dance        our fingers interlaced       is this all that you
had hoped for        alone      backlit        here are the hours I have fathered up for you

in my cupped hands         here are the maps I have drawn        here is the nape of my
neck        take it in your mouth           I predict another tornado will upend us

as for you       you have made yourself a landing place for birds
all the tourists throw bread at your feet



Mary-Kim Arnold’s writing has appeared at Tin House (online), The Rumpus, Wigleaf, HTML Giant, and Sundog Lit. Her poetry collection, Awake, Location was a finalist for the 2013 Kundiman Prize. She holds an MFA in Fiction from Brown University. She maintains a personal blog at and lives in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.