Feral and Conjoined


When I saw the whores and the john
on the New York street from the safety
of my parents’ car, I didn’t recognize
my face. Until later. And then, I could see nothing
else in my mirrors. I was grown,
painting myself hungry I saw
her red lips, her eyelids loud and fluttering.
His window opened wide
for her.

In the car, I turned my head to my bony lap
I turned it back again, towards
the women, the herd of them on the street. Look
away, my parents did not say
though I knew they wanted
me to. They’re working, my parents did say.

They got in the car. All of them: the whore, the john, and me, staring at my knees. We were feral and conjoined from then. They bore their way inside me or they fit in my pockets or they grew like a tumor blooms and no one knows why. Everyone had asked her to get in their cars that night and I had been the one to take them all home

Like any animal I could not kill, I had to name us:

I called her Shame and she                      He was simple                       She answered to Wanted so I kept on
of course answered. We wore           He stared at every-               calling her that. She, of course, smiled.
the same dress, high necked                 thing, at every-                        We wore our collar bones and every
low-hemmed long-sleeved. we           one. I called him           pulsing vein beneath them like licked lips.
wore the same lowered eyes              mouth. Called him                       We unzippered, we uncovered, we
the same mumbled denial.            When  eyes. He answered                 always right here and grin. When
our body pushed outward,               to anything, to every-                         our body pulled itself into itself
she split us in two.                                               thing                                                                    she split us in two.
And the new girl’s was still our face,                                                        And the new girl’s was still our face,
but smiling like food left out on a table                   but her lips bone dry dirt and sandy gravel, nothing
She knew the carnivores were coming,                                     quenched about her, me. And us so thirsty
big and small and already on their way.                                                  and too shamed to swallow or even
And we renamed her yes because                                                      reach for the cup. So we rename her no
it the only word we I could remember                                          because our mouths shut too tight to say
when she looked at me                            his face my face too                                                            anything else

At first they were on the other side
of a shut window. My mother
between me and the transaction. Me

between my mother and father. This was before
I knew them like I know my own
mistakes. Before I was her, I watched her:

lingerie, breath turned white
by the winter, her coat, fake fur

short enough to let me see
her thighs. She should have been shivering
It was shiny, the lingerie. Maroon.

What my mother called burgundy. I miss drinking
sometimes when I think of her there on the sidewalk
consumed by my greedy little girl eyes

and now my greedy grown woman memory
darts back to her thighs when, in my bed,
a body warm and waiting, does or does not

bring them out of or into me:
Desired I say, approximating her name
and sometimes she comes. I miss

drinking. I knew her name then. Or
it did not matter what I called her, she was
at the bar with me, in the bottle with me, doing another

shot with me. Sometimes instead of her unshivering thighs,
our other sister comes: she puts on another
layer—a cardigan, a scarf, a wool skirt. It’s summer

in the bedroom, but she doesn’t care. She pulls
the blanket up to my carotid and sits there
between me and the body in my bed

sometimes, I try to say I want to
but the blanket is against my throat.

Sometimes he comes, his mouth full of a song
no one can trust
and we are arguing, all of us

loud we are in the car again looking at our knees and watching us bend to bring our smile slightly inside the window we have just rolled down to get a better view of our knees again
and next to us in the bed

I try to say I want but

The arguing moves into the living room
and so I try again to unbutton what can be
undone. My mouth moves quick against
the right words. But I hear them

in the other room: one coughing, one
opening the windows swollen shut,
clothes rustling again clothes, metal
teeth letting go. When I leave

the fleshwarm question in my bed
to go to them,
we are all surprised. She is
sitting in the dark
at my table reading
a bible I forgot I had.
She is leaning against a wall
the fan blowing useless air
against her thighs. He paces eating
everything in sight

I turn the the light on and they scatter,
a thousand roaches into the shadows.

I summon us: you of the darkened room,
you of the top button buttoned,
you of the plain face
and downcast eyes,
you of the bitten tongue,
you of the bitten lip,
you of painted mouth
you of the unabashed face
you of the deepest neckline
you of the unblinking
you of the gluttonous hands
come home

Then there we are, at the sink,
washing all the dishes as if they have wronged us
by being used as they were meant to be used.

I want to undress without the greek chorus
of myself reciting from
these different plays.

When my love comes to get me,
I am naked at the sink. Hands pruny from scrubbing something
that was never dirty.

Nicole Homer

—3rd Place Winner of the Emerging Poet Prize—

Nicole Homer is a writer and educator. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Muzzle, The Offing, Winter Tangerine, Rattle, The Collagist and on final stages of several national poetry slam competitions. A fellow of both The Watering Hole and Callaloo, Homer serves as an Editor and regular contributor at BlackNerdProblems, writing critique of media and pop culture, and as faculty at the Pink Door Writing Retreat for Women and Gender Non-conforming Writers of Color. Her full-length collection of poems, Pecking Order was a Eric Hoffer Poetry Award winner and a Paterson Poetry Prize finalist. As the 2018 Dartmouth Poet-in-Residence at The Frost Place, she lived in Robert Frost’s home, drank coffee, and concentrated on her next manuscript, Fast Tail. She lurks online as @realnicolehomer.