Portrait of a Marriage
We, recovering Mormons, blow out candles
in the birthdays of our second childhoods.
He brings home Smirnoff, “Pussy beer” he calls it.
I bring home coffee, which he refuses to drink
until I tell him I feel fucking judged.
He tells me he loves me more
each time I say that word.
I tell him he better fucking drink.
We attend a drag show. I bid on a makeover,
and he wins. I help him don a corset, panty hose,
high heels, earrings, and a black flapper dress. A stranger
gives him a beauty mark and cleavage, lipstick and eyelashes.
He straightens the wig, and she is there, lip syncing
in the mirror, sweetly stunning,
ablaze with unapologetic celebration.
Jealous, I imagine ripping her clothes, making her cry,
because he is better at being a woman than me. She whispers
how wonderful it is to finally feel beautiful. as though I
didn’t know that rare self-awe when your reflection finally
chooses to kiss you back. I weep and name her, Alexa.
We apply makeup together. I teach her how to shave her legs
and wonder if perhaps I am a lesbian. I spike my short hair.
She curls a long wig.
He shows me movies: a man surgically made into a walrus
a mother with anaconda diarrhea dripping down her chest.
I lock him out of the bathroom when he needs to poop,
send him the pictures when he doesn’t flush.
He cooks dinner while I fix the door hinge, and our daughter
goes to school in whatever the hell she wants.
Writing classes on Mother’s Day, and pedicures on Father’s.
Every other day CandyLand, Zelda, and zombie training.
We name our WiFi “That Weird Family” and attend burlesque
shows where large women pour milk on their tasseled breasts.
We buy groceries, sometimes organic, but I relish buying my
fair trade Arabica coffee named “Be Fearless.” We both drink it
with a packet of hot chocolate.
He still drinks pussy beer when I shoot whiskey. He never
asks me to make him a drink, but I always get him drunk.
We love taking advantage of each other. He hopes
missionaries show up when Alexa is out or when we’re drinking.
I hope they show up when we’re fucking and they hear the climax.
We hope they show up when our henna-stained daughter dances
naked in the sun and we spray her with a water hose so we can show
them our family’s negative on the fence.
Epistle to Dad
I still remember the day you drove
your Land Cruiser to Chisos Basin and
pointed across the river to tell
me it was Mexico. I was so fascinated
with boundaries, so confused someone
could point to the earth and label it
something other than home.
I have forgotten our language,
but if I still knew it, I would compose
for you a rock opera of how I’ve
learned to run toward everything
that makes me afraid. That’s how
I’ve chosen every path.
That’s how I still chose you
and your unsettlingly sad gaze
that thinks it sees inauthentic
joy when I smile, you whose
grim shrug seems to think
it can sum up my life in a sigh.
As the cedar dusted the truck yellow,
As the fish stole our bait,
As the cacti stretched before us,
on the road.
by the coastline.
under Fort Davis stars.
You told me so many times:
“I don’t care who you become
as long as you’re the best
whatever it is you want.”
I never considered you
might have been lying.
Did you ever consider how
I envied Texas, how her blur
between the Old South
and the Wild West and
his weird, musical
heart aroused me?
I am so fascinated with boundaries,
with what it is to fall in love
with home while
holding the hands of
a boy and a girl.
You and I keep exchanging
cave fires and cathedral lights,
each hoping the other finally sees.
But we must have become
the other’s shadow, our backs facing.
I knew a man who drove
your Dodge on the Devil’s Backbone
toward Fredericksburg peaches.
I know a girl who ate them.
The first girl I fell in love with,
the sigh at the end of her name
The first boy I fell in love with,
his barefoot heart, trampoline soul,
smile as wide as Christmas.
Long before I knew
how you could fold
your elbows and knees
into my spine,
you began as labyrinth
clay, as a prayer
on a beige carpet
in front of a wicker drawer.
We darted into empty chapels,
invisible bouncy houses. Giggles
traced his curls. Freckled music
lined her back. Her stained glass kissed
eyes. His bubblegum chest.
Whispered verses, piano melodies.
Our hesitant lips, the vibrations
of our seas. Oh, how Home takes a lifetime
to learn even when in the echo
of a shell against your ear.
We learn ourselves in spirals,
in DNA and Milkyways,
in nesting bowls within
nesting bowls you began
as a baby turtle cradled
in sand beneath moonlight.
Your name, folded against
my palms, was the first gift
you received after pulling
sunlight into your lungs.
But no one knows what waters call
you, so swim. And when you learn
love’s name and it is all that fits, slip
it between everyone’s teeth
so the world will know
how to utter the helixed incantations of you.
Mandy Brown (she/her) is a queer Central Texas poet, a 2020 Poetry Half-Marathon winner, and the 2013 recipient of A Room of Her Own Foundation’s Tillie Olsen Fellowship. Her poetry has been published in Vine Leaves Literary Journal, The Belmont Story Review, Eunoia Review, and more. Mandy currently teaches at an alternative school for high-risk students and loves it! Read more at mandyalyssbrown.weebly.com.