there are things i don’t mean to notice, but do

an almost-man’s seedy, vulpine smile

emboldened by vodka & sprite

t-shirt gummed to his chest with pasty sweat

and you, strapped to his side

by a thick, inconsiderate arm

so your feet tug when he drags you,

the plastic of your vans warps

against murky, beer-clouded floors

that slosh and plunge like swampy earth

capsize into splintered waves

he’s laughing,

                           but you’re not.

your face is that of a seasick sailor

febrile, sinking, slackened, damp

and from within a stained curb-found couch

i see this…

             and shrink

between the two of you and me

is a layer, tenuous and gauzy

it is an art exhibit’s glass,

with wax figures posed behind, pink lips painted on

it is crime scene tape, warning:

this evidence is not to be tampered with

it is a “don’t walk” sign,

with a red blinking hand insisting “wait”

it is a news story,

tomorrow’s unalterable headline

it is a paused movie,

characters suspended, subtitles stuck

it is the absurd platitudes at my great uncle’s

death bed, promising “it’ll be okay” on life support

it is good old midwestern denial,

enclosed in saran wrap, only visible

by the glare of the booming pink light

still fragile enough that i could’ve

brandished a nail and pierced right through

told him to f*** off and helped you

because no amount of metaphor acquits me from the truth.




lemon-colored tulips

drown in their crystal vase

contained by a crisp

of bleak sunlight

the tea kettle

deadpans on the stove

the table’s been licked

free from crumbs

by an old rag’s

scratchy tongue

but she sits alone

at the counter

elbows braced

head slumped

in crinkle-cookie hands

like this is the bitter

aftertaste of “better half”

her body is pitched,

missing a few ribs,

hearing the phantom ring

of mundane conversation

oh, how even his chapped lips

crackling into a smile

would gleam

in this kitchen’s deadly serene

she drums her pen

on a list of to-dos

that haunt

in his absence

call the plumber,

change the oil,

check the furnace,

learn how to fall asleep

without the sound

of his cpap machine

she dials the phone,

forgets to breathe,

after all this time, pleading

“i don’t want to know

how things work

when it’s just me.”



Biographical Note: Stella Mehlhoff is a freshman at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys creating theatre, doing yoga, appreciating other people’s art, and learning new things from her friends.