Wild Collards

Linette Marie Allen

Peering from the window of my train, I see not murder — fat and juicy murder, but wild collards growing woke, posh and unpicked, green as pistachio. I pop a few in horror — pistachio, fat and juicy, by this new company in California. Green. Impossibly green. 

I’m in town for two nights. A town close to the capital city. It could be any town in any capital city — those filled with fire trucks and cafés converted from fire trucks and fire stations. Soft piano. Superb single origin coffee. Yirgacheffe? Sidamo? The cruel and the cultured, side by side, in-line not at the place that sells superb single origin coffee but at Starbucks. It’s wild. My hotel lost my luggage. Twice. Both times after I checked in and stored it, behind stiff white blankets, in my room. It was nearly a conflict. The manager, green as God, returned it with a smile—and a $50 gift card to Starbucks (redeemable only after I show proof of having been vaccinated by some company I’ve never heard of).

I tear it in half, pat him on the back, smile. He coughs, seems to like it. Asks me for a card. We are both maskless again in the center of my bedroom. Well, that’s what it was essentially: long dresser, wide mirror, cozy loveseat with a cupholder, king-size bed in white. A wooden pile of bones. A skeleton. A trick.

He touches my hair. Kisses me once, twice, three times. Don’t judge. I haven’t had my morning coffee yet, so when he offers to serve me a fresh cup, I let him. He waits for the green light, pours in milk, stirs it with his fingers. “Keurigs are the best,” he says softly. “They’ve nailed coffee.” I laugh, explain how violent these machines are, how they drive a stake through the roof of the coffee pod, essentially blowing her top, rupturing her brand, her label, her sole identifier. She leaks. Loses her color. “No,” he interrupts, nibbling at her neck. “She’s greener than ever.”

I raise a mug to my lips, argue not. He eases down into the loveseat, pulls me slowly — steady, steady — onto his lap, the thought of hot living coffee burning us both to hell if it were to spill at his forefront, likely. We sip, talk all things coffee — I learned that coffee is a palate cleanser, pairs perfectly with pistachio milk, comes in wondrous woody flavors.

His hand brushes over the small brown box. “Ice?”

I nod, think, Why not? “Try it.”

He tells me his life’s story, the peaks and valleys, as if a page pulled from Project Gutenberg. I learn a few new words in Amharic: meta yadirigu, yemīli newi, but’ī. His eyes, so brown, organic brown, brown as I’m broken with morning sun in the sleeve of a lion’s den on a breezy ancient Monday. Brown. I’m facing Jesus. We kiss like old lovers meeting again. Brown eyes to brown eyes at the Judgment Seat of the world. Am I a woman spreading her legs on God’s greenest and highest hillside? Is he an arrogant, stubborn city near a hot highly favored city? Are we cripples, balmed and beautiful, waiting for the water to be stirred at Bethesda?

We are married, Jesus says — except, not really, because I’ve five husbands. Five lovers in my lifetime. That’s pretty low, I reason, considering I have the appetite of a lioness, can see myself in Ra’s chambers, a literary lover of his towering library at Memphis: drinking pages, downing volumes, court flowers in my hair — sunberries, mead and sugar — papyri cracked like babies floating the Nile. I, foreseeing this day, nestled with flame in my eyes, agree with Lucia Berlin — hotels are such holy places.

“Snap out of it.” He bites my lobe. “Call me Tiger,” he says, chuckling. “I got balls.”

“Really?” I raise an unholy brow. “Read my mind, Tigger.”

He rises like a lime–lit pyramid in the wild west, ice storms in the forecast, on the come up. I hear a Western woman whirling in operatic voice. I cross my legs, lower my mug onto the wood, watch with willpower. I am made for this — you, imagining the music, freeing your mighty calves of clothing that don’t belong to you, waking your skeleton on fire with whorling movements, stripping your limbs of light. You see me running for miles, storm at my back, falling into Henny. I meet the monster.

It’s coming on five. I find a half-eaten croissant, smell it, bite. I feel for the toilet in the dark, pee in green. I rise, collect the dirty clothes. Two days’ worth. Dresses. Suits. Ties. Undies. Broken mugs. My blonde wig. I wipe down the walls. Turn to him, watch him shaving hurriedly in the kitchen sink, nearly late for his red-eye. “Next time,” I say grumpily, “I’ll play the manager.” He claps back, spit flying. “Next time, you’ll order Fred.”

Linette Marie Allen

LINETTE MARIE ALLEN, winner of the 2021 Kay Murphy Prize for Poetry, holds an MFA in Creative Writing & Publishing Arts from the University of Baltimore. A Turner Fellow, she has published work in Pleiades, Gulf Coast, Prairie Schoner, and elsewhere. Her work has been twice nominated for Best of the Net Anthology and has been set to music by composers at the Peabody Institute. When not writing, she is sketching in charcoal: mushrooms, mice under moonlight, and the mountains.

Art: “Flower Siam as Flame” by Jim Ross, Digital Photography

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