Francesca Bell


At a gallery in Sausalito, a man
named Javier reads his poems
about darkness and lost kisses.
These, he calls besos, explaining
that the literal translation
is kisses, but besos are different.
I ask what’s missing for him in kisses,
and he says, the Spanish,
which gets me thinking about Spanish
conjugation, the preterite tense
where an action has a clear end,
and the imperfect where an action
could go on and on, like my first kiss
as I lay in the back of some dirty van.
That boy loosed his tongue
in my mouth, and my tongue,
which had seemed innocent before,
leapt like an animal from its cave,
and my mouth opened wide,
almost snarling, to make contact
with every bit of that boy’s mouth,
and I hadn’t known, but the nerves
of my tongue were connected
down my body’s long center
to those mysterious lips below
that clenched and slickened
as we kissed and kissed.
That boy tasted of rum and sweat,
and I tangled my bitten-to-the-quick
fingernails in his messy, dark curls
and held on, our mouths swollen
and, I found after, bruised.
I never kissed him again but stood quietly
a few weeks later as he was beaten
at our bus stop, his sweet, surprised face
kicked and kicked by another boy’s boot.
A group of us watched as blood ran
from his nose and ragged mouth.
Then he lay there, so still, as we
and that other boy walked away,
and I didn’t realize that moment
would go on and on like the Spanish
imperfect, and what would later
turn up missing for me in kisses
would not ever be a language
but the taste of rum hovering
like memory in someone’s mouth
and a body, laid out, unable to resist.


Artwork on this page:
Detail of Heat of the day, cool of the night
65 x 26.5" oil on wooden door, 2005
Irene Hardwicke Olivieri

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