I tell them I faint when I see blood,
be it rare meat or a scab on a knee.
I don’t tell them it’s dyslexia, that it’s anxiety
that follows, like blood after a cut. You can find
blood in any scene if you try hard enough.
Even strawberry milk is rumored to be colored
with bug blood. But, I know it’s just crushed
insects, sun-dried female cochineals.
I act like a ditz, I say “OMG! I totally forgot
how many Ps are in happy” even though
I’ve never known. When my math teacher
sits me by his desk with a stack
of flashcards, thick as a steak
and tells me I won’t get anywhere
in math until I memorize my times tables,
I squeeze my fingers between my knees,
tap the rhythm 4, 8, 12… or 7, 14, 21
on the underside of my thighs. When I see
a spot of blood where my teacher tore
off a hangnail. I fall off my chair,
like a girl shot.
I wake, dead, underwater,
in a sweater and snake
skin. My lips are bright,
my eyes lined. You could
mistake me for a hipster
who spent my tours in Iraq
pouring hearts and tulips
into lattes, instead of driving
a Humvee through the desert.
Now my hair is snakes who whisper and sing.
Sometimes they mock me, hero, they hiss.
Sometimes they sing boyhood songs
my mother sang while she wiped
my stinging knees with rubbing alcohol.
Once I handed an Iraqi girl a bottle
of water. As she stepped forward
she broke into ash.
I saw her in every plastic water
bottle. every girl reaching out
I see her now in this ocean, floating
with parts of soldiers, and cats I’ve run over.
This ocean’s plastic
has broken small as glitter,
and when I see it in the sunlight
it swirls bright and broken,
like the last time I jumped,
crushing my body
against the hard ocean.
Peri & Pearl
I am of two minds like a tree in which
there are two blackbirds,
or a two-headed woman
who just hung herself in its branches.
Once I drove a stolen Chevelle to California
to audition for The Eagles.
I windsurfed in the gorge drunk and did not die,
my brown hair, long, straight and middle-parted.
I was Eve and the serpent at the same time,
even Adam in drag, on my brightest days.
But crazy does not age well. I could not take
another winter staring at white walls.
Swallowing pills that grow weaker and weaker
like my brain. Not just anyone could make
a noose for two necks, tighten it
down with fingernails and teeth.
Rachel Mehl has published poems in Willow Springs, Alaska Quarterly Review, and PANK.
Artwork: Christine Butterworth-McDermott