On Easter Sunday I hit the back of a woman’s thighs
with dried eucalyptus. We are in a Russian bath
and outside it doesn’t rain. The thighs of Jesus were lean
and he wore silver rings on his thumbs. Earlier, driving
through Brooklyn, I look out at beaches and care homes.
Accounting firms and pharmacies. A billboard reads
A DARK CLOUD HANGS OVER AMERICA.
On Christmas you notice every novel takes place
on Christmas. It’s like that – suddenly, spring everywhere.
Something raw and full of promise steps out from behind
a boulder. The branches are doused in hot water.
I don’t know much about Jesus and there is so much I am
afraid of. I count my lives, they are thirteen
at a table, pulling bread apart with their entire hands.
Lone Star State
My cowboy arrives at the gas station, tasselled boots
on terrain. He is staunch, of cooked meat. His large fingers
hook into the belt loop of his jeans, blue as a prayer
at the wheel and god’s mercy. Name an animal,
he’s skinned it. As a boy, his father took him fishing
on the banks of Lake Buchanan. The flesh
of the cheek is his favourite, slight and delicious.
Don’t the gills look like slashes. Don’t their bodies
seem helpless. Sure, it gets lonesome, but the sky keeps
him here, colour of a world ending. When he turns poetic
like this, he casts his eyes far out. He loves my elbows,
the skulls of my knees. He holds my chin very still
like he is thumbing a stone. When he presses against me
I come away smelling of him, which is the smell of dusk,
which is the smell of many moving bodies. My free
ramblin’ man. I don’t love him. I never could. I respect
the grace of his legs. I touch his torso because it is
expansive and there. When he says Kiss me baby
I kiss him, but I do it as a toad. This is a secret game I play.
When we argue in bed, I remind him he isn’t real. I want
for this to hurt, but he twists the hair on his stomach and
laughs, like he was once very hungry and now he is full.
My father lived above chickens. He was at university
and had very little money. He told us there was no animal
he couldn’t kill with just his hands, he said he’d almost shot
a man in the chest at close-range. As a boy, he surveyed
the cornfield from his tall and wooden tower, searching for
wild boar who decimated the crop at night. My father loved
a woman, she was Croatian and had a boyfriend. He tutored her
in science, crossing Zagreb in the rain. There had been violence
at the stadium, and one night when he fucked her, he thought
hard about his country and then he thought of hers. They met briskly
in cafés. Bombings were frequent and people were afraid.
When my father fled to London, she did not follow. Years passed,
there were novels, the pursuit of knowledge. He saw France.
Continents, some small loves. Then the century turned over.
I watched him pass an envelope of cash to soldiers at the border.
I didn’t speak his language but kissed aunts on the cheek,
my grandmother held my face. She gave me a t-shirt that read
dance is not lovely. The men looked bristled and gold.
Neighbours arrived with different cancers, mistaking
my father for a doctor. We left at the end of every summer.
Back in our flat in London, there was no hot water.
Spiny cucumbers on the balcony. Allegedly a gun under his bed.
Nina Reljić is a writer from London living in NYC. She has a Writing MFA from Columbia University. Her writing is published in The White Review, New Ohio Review, Image, The Tangerine, The Manchester Review, and Banshee. Her portfolio was shortlisted and commended for The White Review Poet’s Prize 2022, and two of her poems were selected as finalists for the Indiana Review 2021 Poetry Prize.