Side-Eyed in Starbucks

The Branded Lady by Marlene KellyA shadow walked through the branded lady’s door.
Dismantled and disfigured,
Heavy beard and zipped-up coat on a summer day
In a line of blue badges,
He spotted the woman from his past.

Venti green iced tea in her hand,
Heartbeat strong and unfazed,
No longer the girl pregnant with possibility.
So easily disarmed and charmed
By a sore thumb like him.

His sideways glance betrayed
The after-whiskey sinkhole.
He doesn’t want to belong
To this moment in a bright, metal caffeine box.
He doesn’t want to be remembered.

She hasn’t forgotten
The dark, cold night in a barren apartment.
Head smacked on the bath tub faucet,
Strangled voiceless by his darkness.
Rescued by her next-door neighbor.

Recovered and uncovered,
Her face doesn’t hide how long it took
To toe-pick her way, hand over foot,
Out of the well of snow and ice
Frozen around her heart.

But he knows the devil
Much better than her.
He’s done it before, he cannot be saved.
When love cracked him open,
A rotten egg lay buried in the pulse between his ribs.

Her only acknowledgment of him,
A watchful sip from the big, green straw.
Inside the past cut away, her body unmoored
By a weight she could only understand
Once it disappeared and she was free.

He felt her shift, a sort of forgiveness,
As he walked out the glass door.
He imagined a life no longer chasing his tail.
This gift he knew he does not deserve,
But needed to survive all the same.

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