I won a fraternity kissing contest
in college. I still have the photo—
chubby dumpling me, squeezed
into too-tight jeans, perched
on a strange boy’s lap. He
is blindfolded and I am holding
his face, leaning in. I never
thought I’d win. Too worried
about the heft of me on those boys’
laps to imagine they’d respond
to the ripeness of my lips,
the stealthy inquiries of my tongue,
my breath reduced to tiny sighs.
Why did my sorority sisters offer me up?
Did my six-month relationship
with a grad student who resembled
Warren Beatty credential me as
experienced? Or was it,
in the wake of our break-up,
now two months past, the wreckage
of clear-cut forest behind my eyes,
or the daily widening of my abundant hips
that bespoke a hunger so impersonal
that any lips would do?
from Office at Night
by Edward Hopper
The lonely streetlight reaches
through the half-open window, into
the corner office, strokes the white wall,
the metal file cabinet, the fine, round ass
of the secretary snugged in blue. Its
glow casts the words scrawled across
the letter in high relief. They shout
at the man who clutches the letter
in both hands. She’s onto us,
he says to his new love,
his “true love,” his voice strangled
as the words grip his throat.
Oh baby, the woman pleads, let’s get out
of town, leave this crummy office behind
and start fresh. Maybe California?
I got a sister in LA.
The man doesn’t answer, doesn’t move,
silent as the typewriter on her desk
a yard away from his, the distance
like an ocean for so long, when all he could do
was stare into the endless blue of want,
adrift on the ship of wife and family
until one day she threw him a line:
Wanna go for a drink? He’d been
drinking her in ever since, each swallow
his death and his salvation.
The woman has forgotten what she wanted
in the files. She clings to the cabinet
to keep from falling, her dark eyes
smudged with tears. His silence is louder
than the first clap of thunder.
Grab the umbrella, she thinks,
here comes rain.
About the Writer
Elya Braden took a long detour from her creative endeavors to pursue an eighteen-year career as a corporate lawyer and entrepreneur. Elya is now a writer, performer and collage artist living in Los Angeles where she leads workshops for other writers. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Cultural Weekly, Deep Water Literary Journal, Dogwood, Forge, poemmemoirstory, Willow Review and other journals.