Tonight I want to show you something beautiful.
Chain link by a riverside. The valley, opening up like
an umbrella. Here everything smells
like ashes, white flags,
open wounds from the summer I stopped looking in mirrors.
A bundle of memories. The edges of a slow dream.
You told me I'm the human equivalent of a no smoking sign
& grabbed my arm without bothering to put out your cigarette first.
The burn mark was as smooth as someone else's hands.
The vein in your neck kept steady rhythm like a red-eyed animal
chewing with broken teeth.


My bones are shaped like the hulls of ships
or submarines that fumble & crash against you,
as if the deepest ocean is more beautiful
than your ankles flung over the marbled lip of the bathtub.
I am full of incorrect feelings
but I can make gunpowder
by spitting in the kitchen sink.
Each day I learn more about bruising,
the body's ability to paint itself blue.
& nobody tells me how to find north from radio static—
this code made of smoke taste & bloody lips,
the lake my mother named me for.
We drive for twenty minutes,
wander through the pet shop:
mice balled together like old socks, slick fish flanks,
ambiguous bodies that glitter from the reptile cages.
Where does a snake keep its heart, its lungs,
the ability to tempt a girl away from paradise?
The trick, you say, tapping against the glass,
is to make an apple sound better
than eternity in heaven.

I swear I am that girl with a burning ghost in her mouth.
For years I dreamed of his body pulled from the water,
dripping like a wrench covered in oil,
thickened handprints trying to slip the breath
back into his lungs. A twitching fingertip,
a shattered wishbone,
a wolf nosing for blood.
The only honesty is pairs of hands & how we move them,
the maps I make on your skin: this is the window,
this is the bed, & this is where to touch the fever until it breaks.
This is the way the river lapses in a broken syntax & the world
reels with the storm of your breathing
& my quiet, it burns.

Alexandra Spensley is a native of Avon Lake, Ohio, and a student at Princeton University. Her work has been published in The Guardian and The Sierra Nevada Review, among others, and she was named a 2015 Foyle Young Poet of the Year. (

Boxcar Poetry Review - ISSN 1931-1761