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poetry Illicit

Virginia-based Cynthia Atkins writes about some unexpected consequences of the world-wide brush with death.


By Cynthia Atkins

I owned your dirty thoughts, lying

in the afternoon shadows.  It’s 3 pm,

the streets are desolate. The backlit dive

where we met has replaced me with

your new mistress, hair as green as a virus. 

Our love got caught in the no-fly zone

of human distancing.  The hands that used to pull

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my hair from your sweaty face, are now slicing

Pb & j’s on the counter.  After school sports

and play dates, canceled.  My hair is growing

out white, like the finger lakes

in winter, but it’s not winter, it’s April

and the buds are calling our names.

You once said there was nothing more sublime

than my neckline shadowed against the fire-escapes.

I knew each portal, each cavity your body kept.

There’s a reaper in the stairwell, listening

at the doors, keyholing all the despair. 

Tonight, you’re all in the living room, TV and popcorn.

The cozy family snuggled up.  Your wife stretches out,

wearing my ankle bracelet.  This pestilence writes

an elegy with toxic ink—A world-wide brush with

death, to tell us, there’s no place for lovers in a war zone.   

Cynthia Atkins is the author of Psyche’s WeathersIn The Event of Full Disclosure (CW Books),and Still-Life With God (Saint Julian Press 2020), and a chapbook forthcoming from Harbor Editions, 2022.  Her work has appeared in many journals, including Alaska Quarterly Review, Anti-Heroin Chic, BOMB, Cleaver Magazine, Diode, Green Mountains Review, Indianapolis Review, Rust + Moth, North American Review, Seneca Review, SWWIM, Thrush, Tinderbox, and Verse Daily. Formerly, Atkins worked as the assistant director for the Poetry Society of America, and has taught English and Creative Writing, most recently at Blue Ridge Community College. She is an Interviews Editor for American Microreviews and Interviews.  She earned her MFA from Columbia University and has earned fellowships and prizes from Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, The Writer’s Voice, and Writers@Work. Atkins lives on the Maury River of Rockbridge County, Virginia, with artist Phillip Welch and their family.  More work and info at: