Each girl slings a basket on her elbow.
Hollow crates dangle like unlit chandeliers.
They get the heavy stuff first, full gallons
of skim milk, and pace the aisles,
trying to burn as much as they collect.
They select the oldest ones, the overpicked,
those that will spoil first.
Each arm is the untested girder
of a cantilever bridge. Together,
their bodies form the landscape of a city
after the bombings, jagged steeples vault
over a gaping apse like broken teeth.
They must choose a cheese: something old,
borrowed, or blue. One girl eyes a Munster.
She inspects it under glaring lights,
says, “Joyce had it right, ‘Corpse of milk,’”
and puts it back into the morgue.
The grapes look too round, something
you might have to chew to swallow.
The stems are dried, brittle bones. One girl
refuses to touch mayonnaise, even
the sterile exterior of a vacuum-sealed jar.
She wants to be all longitude, the knobs
of her spine ticking off uninhabited islands
along the International Dateline.
Another returns a squash and explains,
“It’s difficult to commit to something so large.”
She cries at the crinkle of a chocolate bar.
She doesn’t know that Jeffrey Dahmer
worked nights at the Ambrosia Chocolate Factory
pouring Santas into molds, concealing brown bodies
in green and red foil. But she’s convinced that
there are more calories in “Sweetie” than there are in “Honey.”
They all believe that the square root of happiness
is a sexy prime. At 5 foot 5, Isabella Caro weighed 55 pounds.
Her family didn’t release her weight when she died.
It’s easy to get lost, pushing into a plum that doesn’t respond
or knocking for hours against a hollow melon
who never answers back. Dahmer spent years
trying to build the perfect lover, drilling into boys’
seamless foreheads with an electric Black and Decker,
pouring hydrochloric acid into the hole,
a frothy fountain of youth. His zombies were awake
to hear the hum and fizz of their own heads.
It’s really not so strange, even Exodus
suggests an auger: “Pierce his ear with an awl.
Then, he will be his servant for life.”
That’s what these girls need. More than chilled,
clotted proteins and Vitamin Water, they need a lesson
in pierceology, some dangly earrings to hand out
like roses studded with thorns. They need someone
to open their ribs like a hot baguette and lather
their organs with homemade jams and marmalades.
They need to cherish the irresistible striptease
of a chocolate Santa and take a guillotine
to the Marshmallow Peep who refuses to say,
“You’re the bee’s knees, the snake’s hips.”
Only then will they learn that the cosine of loneliness
is the tangent to a story touching every nerve.
Jaclyn Dwyer graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and then earned an MFA from the University of Notre Dame, where she received the Sparks Fellowship. She is currently enrolled in Florida State’s PhD program in Creative Writing, where she is a recipient of the Kingsbury Fellowship.