M. J. Arlett

Smoke and Ice in Andalucía

The fountain is a cathedral of ice.
On the walk home from school, we stop,
awed by the water suspended in air
like my hand when I try to answer questions
in class. The teacher ignores me

because I am extranjera
and everyone assumes I am tonta.
But this language is permeating
my twelve-year-old body
like the second-hand smoke
when Rocío offers me a cigarette
from her rainbow-coloured backpack,
and I say, “No fumo. Pero, gracias.”

And when Abraham kicks my chair
while I’m trying to work, I can tell him to,
“Come mierda, hijo de puta.”
This school has bars on every window
except the detention room
as though they’re trying to lose
a few along the way.

It is January. As we stare at the fountain

in the mid-afternoon sun,
the icicles are also starting to shine
in a place they had never expected to be.

The twins – Marí Luz and Belén –
giggle as they each break off a column
and bring them to their lips like cigars,
the ice melting into their gloves

the whole way home.



Swimming Lessons with Virginia Woolf

Stones in pockets feel remarkably like thunder.
I once climbed an abandoned railway bridge

strung across the water, the horizon rolling over the River Ouse.


I tip-toed along the steel          ochred by age and neglect.
When did butterfly become a stroke? I have seen them do nothing in water


but drown, cabbage-white wings weighing them under.
It wasn’t far     the river.
Just enough to skirt the border


between human and bird.


The world had lost its hold for a moment
and I did not care. I filled my mouth with stones
and jumped.



Leaving (Madrugada)


I took nothing. Barefoot and nude.
He had not left a single bruise.


Dawn is an empty scream across the wildflowers,
a wineglass of first light shattering.

Nights, he’d pull me towards him. The sky
rubble and honey. Now


I find the words he has given me
his mouth colonising my own
his American English cold and hard,

metal    gunpowder      cotton candy.

M. J. Arlett is an MFA candidate at Florida International University. She was born in the UK, spent several years in Spain and now lives in Miami. Her work can be found in Portland Review, Gravel, Indianola Review, The Boiler Journal, Pittsburgh Poetry Review and elsewhere.

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