New Voices: February | Annelise Berghenti

I Couldn’t Say It To Your Face

All day I walk around the city with an unfounded sense of confidence. I feel good, the way sometimes you just do, and somehow I avoid reflections and thinking about love, or the loss of it, or my weight, or the loss of it, and passing a mirror I see my shirt is inside out and I’m like ok, right, makes sense, I hope I can take this off and pull it over my head and put it back on before anyone comes around the corner. It can be easy to mistake insecurity for vanity in women: I don’t stop to readjust my lipstick in shop windows because I think I look good, you know? I always think of selfies tenderly — people are just hoping to be seen the way they choose, hoping someone they like might say you look nice and mean it.

At the gallery there’s nothing but photographs by men of women’s bodies in pain, and I’m so bored, I stand in the lobby, scroll through my phone, watch a thirty minute thread of six second videos, mainly of teenagers laughing with each other. They make me want to be more brave with eye liner. I think about my sisters — I should text them, ask them what colours they’ve been painting their nails. I think about how my back has been hurting recently, how I’m afraid there’s fluid in my spine, how I keep meaning to look up if that’s even possible. I’d like to go home and cook onions really slowly on a low heat, a handful of tomatoes bursting. Stepping outside, a man stares at me from across the street

and my body tenses. I wonder if I can put my keys between my fingers, wonder if that would even help. His eyes are claiming me, and I chew the inside of my lip, and then he waves — he’s looking at someone behind me. I go into a coffee shop where everyone is silent. I order tea and watch a woman with fish earrings and a soft green jumper loop her long hair around her hand, one-two-three times, tuck it up with her pencil, and it’s the most artful thing I’ve seen all day.



 

As Seen On Screen

I choose dresses online with the best of intentions,
for the woman I hope to be when they arrive. Sorting
by price, low – high, knowing it won’t fit
but what if I go on a diet this time, what if I join a gym? What if,

between now and the estimated delivery date of three days
from now I become someone different: taller, more graceful, more
than myself. I don’t know if the goal is to control
my body or forget it, but I know what’s here is not enough,
or it’s too much.

And when the clothes arrive,
I am still just me, standing in my kitchen, running
my tongue across the whisk to lick the batter off.

 

Dock Leaves

Outside the pub a man holding Guinness says, You look like you need a ride, love, while his friends laugh. I laugh, too, and the back of my throat tastes bitter. It’s a grey day. The wet is in my bones. When I walk, I walk so fast people ask me if I’m alright. The news is all terrible, and people keep saying so. I try to do breathing exercises, I try to be present, I try to stop listening.

We bought a Himalayan Salt lamp to try and clear the air. I’m not sure if I believe in salt lamps, though maybe they’re as good a thing to believe in as any. I used to feel I didn’t exist if men weren’t looking at me, but now the opposite is true. During World War II, women sometimes painted themselves with coal dust and iodine, hoping looking diseased would keep men at bay. I think about the Mournes, where St. Patrick came to banish the snakes. There are days I want to be a viper,

a sliver-tongued cruel thing. Days I want to be sharp as sour milk. I’m not interested in being likable, or soft. On the edge of the Irish Sea, I pressed the soles of my feet into the rocks and the rain came down in sheets soaking me through ‘til I became the water, hitting itself against the shore.


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