Dead Languages

Anna Kelley

We fought. He drank. I ripped


           open a silver bag of Scrabble tiles

           seam to seam & scattered like blood


the pieces. We liked a board

between us. He was the one


           who never cheated & drew nucleii

           in the margins of the papers we used


to keep score. He said, don’t help me. 

I didn’t. I hummed the first bars


           of a Bob Dylan song. The tiles

           clicking & clean in my hands 


felt safe. We played. He sketched me


           as Joan of Arc & I laid down

           every beautiful thing to exist


in words. He said, I see.

He didn’t. I was the one


           who always cried & challenged

           each triple word score. We held


tight. He played in pronouns.

I spelled lozenge. I spelled nox


           & skipped my next two turns 

           while he drew lilacs. We fought


to win. We gnawed our lips like 

animals at their bits. He drank


           till I grew quiet & his doodles

           sprawled messy over the page


like the blond wooden squares across

my palm. He left for a smoke. I stayed


           & he came back in time

           to find me spelling words


in dead languages. When the tiles ran out

I spelled them on his skin with my breath.

Anna Kelley is pursuing an MFA in poetry at Syracuse University. She is a reader for Salt Hill and moonlights as a skater for Assault City Roller Derby. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Citron Review, Literary Orphans, Cosmonauts Avenue, CICADA, and others.