Two Loves, Both Ending Badly


You think you haven’t decided,
the story’s turn still a question.
But when he leans toward you

his leather-pine scent, his eyes

searching your face, you remember
loneliness—tired of the taste of
your own mouth, tired of feeling
your body’s singularity in the dark.

But there’s more to it than just
pleasure—a mutual sadness
like the desperate searching of ants

along the lost grooves of the floor.

Looking through the empty glass,

the room is bound by centripetal
force, the mahogany walls and
dim amber lamps swirling around

her face. She’s smiling, Want another
strawberry daiquiri?
, blowing rings of
cigar smoke over your head. She leans
back as if into the crest of a wave,

her arms outstretched. You know
in that moment its more than just
the lovely filthy table, the sharp sweet

against decorative petals, her fingers.


She says tell me a secret, late-late
when we’re through kissing
and my arms feel heavy, as if
they might fade into the dark
of the room, her hair, though
I know she means I’m not through
with your mouth
. I don’t point out
the obvious: she’s the secret—

how can I tell her? I’m out
of metaphors, excuses, notes
I might slip into an empty bottle,

cast into a bloom of jellyfish.

Don’t sleep yet. Open your eyes.

I’ve already lost the fight but
it’s not enough that my words
apologize, he wants my voice

my body to tremble a certain way
for him. Fuck you, I want to say.
From our view, a two-story drop
I fantasize pushing him out of.

Cast among foothills. The ring
of mountains sing a shrill lullaby,
and down will come baby. I realize

my nerves, my eyes, are voltaic.


Morning opens with a howl:
calling to the underworld. Come out
of the cupboard, you boys and girls,

the song from his clock’s alarm

for months, winter light keening
at the edges of everything, even
the plain desk, even the dusty
floor. Last night you dreamed

again of switching sexes, he was a
beautiful woman. Your body a
cipher, your language

both down-rush and pause.

You leave in the dark, still

young enough to believe
shadow conceals you from
the real. The scent of ozone

and ice breathing through
the intricate reach of piñons.
Outstretched wings of a raven—
a black blockade in the path

home. You orbited a head-tilted
dark-eyed critique. Your
tongue said no, then yes

when she kissed you.


When you open the door
you’re surprised to find her
standing there, a small hero

waiting to take you back

from the story you’ve trapped
yourself in. He’s had too much
gin and tonic, slurs as he screams
from the room, segmented

behind you. You sounded scared
on the phone
, she explains, just
come with me
, but you feel stuck.

This is not what you wanted.

He’s sweating—it seems like

you’re not in love with me—and
he’s got a camera to capture
your face twisted in rage,

light from behind the shutters
splitting the room. You’re making
me drink again. You’re so cold.

Like a spinning wheel, your past

whirring through the air—a voice
like your father’s clips your ears:
Whose story are you in, stupid girl?

You wanted the hero to be you.

Danielle Cadena Deulen is an assistant professor for the graduate creative writing program at Georgia State University in Atlanta, and hosts Lit from the Basement a literary podcast and radio show (at KMUZ 100.7 FM). She is the author of a memoir, The Riots; two poetry collections, Our Emotions Get Carried Away Beyond Us and Lovely Asunder; and a poetry chapbook, American Libretto.