Rainbows at the Ends of my Worlds

Written by Anne Marie Ward


I.

Angel, his name for a little pearly iridescent bong with lime trim, has rainbows of various light shiny pinks, purples, greens, yellows that ripple across her surface like an oil slick on wet blacktop as she’s passed over by my dear, dear friend’s extended arm–through smoke and slipping light–as my dear friend seems surprisingly-incredibly distressed when I casually blurt in the midst of this bong exchange that I’m considering fleeing to Moldova to learn Romanian and Russian on the government’s white-savior-obsessed dime and avoid death behind a double-monitored desk but, suppose, also ultimately implicitly avoid some life with those who love me because oh does it hurt so deeply to care for us mortals, as he hands her casually to me, unafraid I will shatter her with an unsteady grip too tight, intrusive ball lollipop cracking between molars flashes on the project screen of my closed eyelids, as surely all this he knows with dropped mouth and wide eyes and brows furrowed,

II.

Recovered Memory From Early Development: As the orange sun sets in the evenings and rises in the mornings, for certain moments the light angles through the faux-crystal chandelier of our foyer and hits the wall behind the steps between the slots of the banister, and creates a fish-shaped rainbow. Watch on the fifth step up above the landing, little one, a little lifetime ago of a particular forgotten little rainbow, a trick of the light that you adored and tried to grasp on the wall, tracing ethereal fins, fleeting scales, though you knew to be futile, after all, suddenly remembering from your childhood home.

III.

Sticky Sweet Sickly rainbow of a sleepless night, greeny-yellowy-bluey tie-dye splotches dilating and constricting behind dark lids, forever, forever, forever, forever, for hour after hour after ever after, in the purple dark that leads to purple circles under red eyes that snap open to reveal the inverse splotches, yellow, red, and white moving like a kaleidoscope screensaver in the absence.

IV. 

Angry, angry, angry at Port Authority at quitting time on a Friday before a long weekend in long lines that collide into each other, entangling. Pigeon with oil-spill rainbows glinting in the curve of her neck struts and rocks on by like fucking audacity incarnate.

Creation Myth: Thoughts on Boticelli’s Birth of Venus

Written by Anne Marie Ward
Art by Mourad Saadi on Unsplash


Classical art occupies negligible real estate in my brain, but lately, Sandro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus pops in my mind, like a burst flashbulb. Though true Italian Renaissance icons, both Botticelli and his painting, my search engine had to correct me and let me know his name was spelled with two Ts. Yet, despite this, of course,  I know something of the image: nude, fully-grown goddess, of love, clutching her pale breasts and golden tresses as she stands on her pink scallop shell, surrounded by deities of the wind and springtime.

Venus: goddess of love, goddess of sex, goddess of pleasure and beauty, too. But Venus was born from her father’s castrated penis; when the severed organ mixed with seafoam and she came up onto the sands of Cyprus. Botticelli neglects this imagery of red blood in his blue water, and her golden hair reveals no glint of the violence she inherited. 

What else is she the goddess of, then, in the realities of love for summer after a plague, in the flourishing and rebirth we hope for? She’s the goddess of jealous lovers, for sure. She’s the goddess of bruised thighs and hickies, of breakup haircuts after quarantine relationships. 

Goddess of bodega condoms and IUDs. She’s the goddess of lichen sclerosis and STIs and endometriosis and ovarian cysts and vulvodynia caused by trauma. She’s the goddess of girl dicks, of genitalia beyond the binary, and purple strap-on dildos and vibrators and plugs. 

Her altar is a nipple barbell with little rhinestones on the end, the period-sex towel covered in stains and water-based lube, and the inside of a lover’s hot cheek. Of asking, “Is this okay? Does that feel good?”

Lipstick Kisses

Written by Anne Marie Ward


After, together, reflecting:
I realized I had never kissed anyone wearing lipstick before, yet. I had worn lipstick and kissed so many times. I would mark dates’ lips, cheekbones, chin clefts, hip bones, and nose tips with the richly colored waxy parenthetical sets of my parted mouth. Lipstick blotted fresh, just before they arrive —  post-outfit-change and post-post-legs-exfoliation, a slew of dating rituals preceding my mouth. I’d touch it up just before they had a chance to lean-in, ideally, always wondering — 

—  had they, though? Kissed a date who wore lipstick before? Maybe they had? Kissed someone wearing lipstick? Most of it would come off beforehand — wiped off with a tissue or napkin.  Or smudged around a burrito’s tortilla or on the rim of a Diet Coke. Which surprised me.  

They turn to look at me, “you don’t mind that I wore my makeup, right? Or my feminine clothes? I didn’t wanna turn you off.” “Not at all…not at all! Never!” I offer like a gentle hand, and I sincerely mean.

Before: 
We hunch in front of little mirrors at the dining table. Lipsticks in hand, bullets twirled up, they turn to me and ask if I normally define my —what was it called, again? Pointing to their top lip, they lean in to see their reflection. “Cupid’s bow?” I recall. With a quick twang, the snap of a taut string, a sudden sting, a phrase is recovered from deep memory. It is recovered from the five hundred thousand perfumed pages of beauty mags in mailboxes and supermarkets and waiting rooms, some hidden away in the top bunks of Christian summer camps. “Yes, Cupid’s bow!” they nod, as they paint over their Cupid’s bow with ‘Opinionated’ in a deep purply red. Their top lip now a vibrant curve, like Pinot noir splashing roundly in the bend of a wine glass after a high, fast pour. Then they look over, away from their reflection, decanting again, breathing like red wine in the open air,  and see what I do with mine.

During: 
I take my thumbnail and run it down my ‘philtrum’; I had forgotten that particular indent’s name until they compliment mine… how they enjoyed my particular version of the mark where the sides of the face merge in utero. Fusion. Completion.

Continuing the art: 
Scraping some extra lipstick with my nail, I perfect the schmear, really defining the bow and going over the groove a second time gingerly with my middle finger. I study the shade at the corners of my mouth and check my teeth. A shade called “Tannins” I tell them. “Tannins?” they are puzzled. “Yeah,” I respond,  “like those acids in red wines or maybe also acorns or definitely cranberry juice — the ones that make my mouth feel cottony dry and lips a little tingly.” This name made sense for the bright, bright red… Hmm, tannins give wines their body, in young wines that haven’t softened with age, the internet says. I thought I had grabbed ‘Toast’ from the bathroom earlier, which I liked a little better on me. It was a little more orangey and less stark against my skin. Continuing to paint our faces, I recommend tips, and they giggle about the weird sensation of pulling false lashes from one’s eyelid. 

No precedent: 
Makeup was new-ish, for them. I had a decade-long amateur career in trying to look fuckable, but was trying to learn how to make myself look and feel good for myself. I had mumbled many frustrated ‘fuck’s in my time as eyeliner smeared the wrong way or eyeshadow sprinkled below the eyes. We look at our finished reflections, the shimmery shades on the facets of our cheeks, brow bones, and the bridges of our noses. 

Then, they ask: 
“so, you want to move to the couch?” Subliminal signals from touches are raising body hair. Coyly, softy, we touch each other’s hands and arms before leaning in for a kiss. Fingers in hair and on the nape of the neck, their rougher cheek against my chin with tender hormonal acne and concealer.  We lean back into blue fake velvet cushions, before pulling away and seeing blotted Tannins spread thin all over. In the hour after, I see ‘Opinionated’  in its waxy, shiny glory smeared illegibly over my own face in the bathroom mirror, fading with a makeup wipe before a shared shower. Gone.

It was definitely the first time they had kissed anyone while their lips were painted with the word Opinionated. They felt pretty and happy, and euphoric. Euphoria tinkled like windchimes in nail beds, in the pulse that throbs in the bend of crossed ankle, in a hot face.

All of it: 
As sudden and intense as cramp, but a rush of pleasure instead of a stab of pain. I hope I never hurt them. I hope they never hurt me. How can another person make me feel this way? I didn’t know someone could change the coding of my brain — how thoughts form and nerves fire and hormones flow.

Later:
“Should I get a condom?”

 “Yes”: 
Slight rustle, crinkle, tear of foil —

Belly

Written by Anne Marie Ward
Art by Alexander Krivitskiy on Unsplash


Peachy pale island: protruding from the warm lavender bathwater. Suds swirling and steam rising, threading around the range like early morning mist swirls. My knees, thigh tops, neck, and breasts complete the archipelago. But the big island, my stomach… Recently marked with new streaks, bright red claw marks below my waist and belly button, are lava flows seen from space. A sign of an expansion unexpected, skin stretched across organic deposits. Terrain and elevation she had to suddenly account for–.and growing, revealed, stressed–as if only hidden just below the surface–before the water started pulling away, building a big wave… That never crashed upon its shores? The Isle still bracing for it, yet, feeling tense, tight–unsure whether the ground will give way–plates suddenly shifting—

Swallow me, HOLE. 

Lovers love her land, her biology, her matter. They trace her landscape with their fingers and scrape with their nails. Bottom lip running over her center, exploring. (Nerves fire in her depths.) Their stomach meeting mine in some geological phenomenon, crashing, sliding, grinding. Their eyelashes graze her upon kissing her earth, palms feeling the rise and fall of deep breaths coming from below. 

A history the span of my short life, and I cannot say I’ve loved her enough. See her phenomena in the cooling tub, knowing the layers: Muscle over bone, neat glimmering organs, pink. How many times have I taken a mental scalpel and cut down her length? If lovers can love her, why can’t I love her as the heat escapes the bathwater later in the full-length mirror, like a satellite photo: distant, removed, beautiful.

The Young Apartment Girlfriend

Written by Anne Marie Ward
Art by Jakob Owens on Unsplash


“The noiseless wheels of my car
rush with a crackling sound over
dried leaves as I bow and pass smiling,” (WIlliams 3.1-3).

Standing in the dog-food aisle of Walmart, I think about driving into the Missouri River. Not seriously, just as a concept. My hands are caffeine-shaking as they hover over the bagged and boxed treats, under caustic fluorescent light. I didn’t know it was possible for the muscles in my chest to hurt this intensely, but they can, because they are. I can feel these discreet muscles pulled over my breast bone, and they are sore when I hunch my shoulders inward, falling in: An anatomy under low-grade but very prolonged stress. I grab various dog treats in red bags from my peripheral and clutch them in the crooks of my arms as my peripheral vision blurs and I power walk out of the aisle. 

Behind the steering wheel at the far end of the dark parking lot I wrinkle my nose thinking about these cases of mothers who drove themselves and their kids into large bodies of water. I don’t want to do something like that, but for the first time in my life, I seriously understand the impulse. I empathize with feeling so overwhelmed and not being able to fully comprehend the sources of stress, not being able to completely understand their origins or legitimacy or whether they even exist or if you are just ultimately more incompetent than others when navigating the daily sequence of adult-life boredoms. 

Behind the steering wheel I rapidly peel various processed, dyed, high-carbo-cal snacks from their thin plastic and shove them into my mouth without any enjoyment, eyes glazing over, wrappers thrown on the passenger seat, falling into the center cupholders and the floor, feeling wafers and powdered sugar and caramel coat my tongue and my inner cheeks. This is all unconscious,  I’m uncomfortably filling my stomach, then suddenly, my stomach is uncomfortably full. It is a great disconnect between subject and her actions and the object. I want to scream but I am a cramped fist. Key in the ignition, off to home.

“Then again she comes to the curb

to call the ice-man, fish-man, and stands

shy, uncorseted, tucking in

stray ends of hair, and I compare her

to a fallen leaf,” (Williams 2.1-4).

Internet dog training literature takes up 100% more time in my day than it did when we moved here, more time than it ever has.

I have been working from home since we moved here, both allowing and forcing me to quit my second weekend job at the market. Yes, now I work from home, clean the apartment, wipe the ambiguous liquids from the shelves of the fridge, clean stray hairs and urine drops from the rim of the toilet in my free time because someone must.

“Do you want to get a dog? We should get a dog. You’re so lonely here during the day.”

We adopt a beautiful tricolor mutt from a local shelter who was recently forfeited because his family could no longer handle the financial responsibility. He is super playful and friendly and cannot stand to be alone. He barks a high-pitched, frantic bark if we try to leave him alone in the apartment, scratching at the door to try to reach us, find us. It takes him a long time to calm down as we assure him we will not be leaving him alone, shaking and panting and whining, ears back.

One early morning, I attempt to leave him alone for five minutes so I can swap a load of laundry in the building basement. In his frantic attempts to reach me, he turns the lock on the door, locking me out. I then have to call my boyfriend at work so he can come home and let me in. All the while, the panicking dog stands behind three inches of door feeling so scared,unable to fix the situation. My neighbors are pissed. I gaze down the hallway and feel their angry breath behind their doors. It is seven a.m. and my dog is panic-barking nonstop and for the moment there is nothing I can do, I am literally living some Kafkaesque nightmare.

I tell my boyfriend in a wry and self-deprecating tone that I finally understand, in some way, those mothers who drive themselves and their children into rivers. He furrows his brow and looks quite uncomfortable, “Heyyyyy now, how can I help?”

I tell a friend, in a wry tone, that I finally understand those mothers who drive themselves and their children into rivers, off bridges–and I don’t even have real kids yet, I’m just managing a small household and taking care of an anxious dog! Their mouth drops, they pause and say, “Are you okay, sweetheart?”

My mother calls from the east coast and I tell her, in a wry but tired tone, that I finally understand those mothers who drive themselves and their children into rivers. She roars with laughter, bouncing into my ear from the other end of the line. She knows; she knows. Then she says in her tender tone, “You need to be taking care of yourself, Munchie. But you can always come home, if you need to.”

Sometimes I am on my back and I can feel the outer edges of my life inches above my hips, my chest, my lips, my brow ridge; too close to really make out, size up, but I can definitely feel their heat.

“At ten a.m. the young housewife

moves about in negligee behind

the wooden walls of her husband’s house.

I pass solitary in my car,” (Williams 1.1-4).

I could carefully scrawl, “You have nothing to be sad about,” in loopy cursive on the bathroom mirror and then spray eco multipurpose household cleaner over it and paper-towel it off, realizing the self-indulgent melodrama.

I start a beginner-level obedience class with my dog in which we are told to put a choker collar on them and pop it tight when they disobey the commands. I feel that this training is necessary, but it also breaks my heart and makes me want to cry and give my tender dog pets.

There is a spray of glass on the front steps of the apartment building. At first I think someone shattered a beer bottle magnificently. I imagine someone raising it over their head, with their arm wound back, and cracking the bottle down as hard as they can. After stepping back from the steps I see that there is a hole through the window on the second story and a thick glass tumbler, unbroken, lying in the grass. Did someone throw a glass tumbler through the second-story window?

The glass remains all day and I gently maneuver my dog around it each time I take him out for a walk. At dusk I put my dog in his crate with a toy stuffed with peanut butter. He watches me as I walk away, but does not start barking. I grab my keys and my broom, walk out to the front steps, and sweep the shards into a little pile out of the direct walking path. A couple in the basement apartment is arguing loudly as I sweep: “She never fucking liked you! Never fucking liked you!” My boyfriend has been in St. Louis all week doing job training and will be starting an even better job on Monday, and he will be home soon. 

I walk back down the hallway, can hear my dog’s frantic barking from down the hallway. What was that poem from undergrad where I learned by rhyme and meter and the lack-of? At the time I loved the turns of language, the imagery, the sneer, but now the thought of it again made me wrinkle my nose. I now empathized with the poet’s subject rather than the poet’s speaker in a way I couldn’t have understood before. What a tidy little narrative, the poet created. Did he ever wonder about his subject’s? A quick internet search reveals “The Young Housewife” by William Carlos Williams.