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Sister Maria
by Erika Walsh


We imagine there will be expressions, a plot, black-and-white faces melting into each other. We imagine there will not even be sex. Cinema L’amour. Montreal's last porn theatre. We imagine we will watch the screen like a piece of art.

A flyer on the F train says Sister Maria. Black-and-white faces discuss in turns what ails them. I am drawn closest to one man, whose face tells me this: I once  lost my nature and she brought me back my nature

Shadowed faces turn toward us from below, away from the screen in the dark. They stay still and we squirm, silver threads of some web, spinning light with our eyes on the balcony.

It is a mistake to allow for completion. It is a mistake to let fantasy end.

I tear off a paper slip with her phone number on it and two long letters: an S and an M. I imagine her voice as a trail of heavy smoke. I imagine my ear against the phone will mean I’m healing.

It was a mistake to buy a poinsettia instead of letting it bloom in the night where you dreamt it. To hand it to you instead of letting it hand you like a seed to yourself, instead of letting it crimson and glow.

In the theatre we watch a man choke a woman with her hair. I think of my own hand pressing yours against my throat. I think of what I know about reclaiming and of truth. I think of how my memories taste different when I turn them.

In Florida I turned clay on a wheel when I was small. My aunt Tara told me about Dracula and castles. I wrote it down like it happened to me. Like I lived in the world of her dream.

We run with the crowd not knowing where we are going. We leap over walls past officers and warm lights. You turn to me, ask, Are we joining a riot? I say whatever it is we are part of it now.

She makes little jokes with the man between moans. I nuzzle you with my nose. We wonder about how they know each other. We wonder about their tattoos.

I remember the small wooden house in Pennsylvania. The woman who smoked cigarettes and shuffled her cards. That’s how you know a real psychic, my mom said. They never leave the house. You have to come to them.

We watch the woman’s body, slick with oil and whole, cradled by one tattooed hand inked with spiderwebs, floating disembodied from the man.

The flyer says Sister Maria heals bodies. The flyer says she creates luck. The flyer says she’ll tell you who to avoid.

The woman with the cigarette said who to avoid. I couldn’t be told. I lodged the thought away and went.

Can healing be a warning. Does it only live in aftermath.

Now I want an order. Now I want to listen. Now all I want is a hard line to follow.

The flyer says give it one day to be sure. The flyer says bring back your nature. The flyer says plant yourself clean. I don't call.

When I get lost it’s in fantasy, in what is becoming. The distance between makes us always so possible.

We crouch behind the balcony. The men below can’t see us. We peek over the bar. They turn slow in the dark. You say, after, There was no l’amour in that theatre. We complain about the lack of coherent structure.

An Evergreen stood on my neighbor’s lawn when I was small. I crawled under branches and into its pine. It was the only way I knew to pretend that it was mine.

When the crowd stops we kiss without shadowed hands watching, our bodies unwebbed, lodged like stones into time.

Erika is a poet and cofounding editor of A VELVET GIANT, a genreless literary journal. Her work has been featured in Hotel Amerika, Hobart, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Peach Mag, Dream Pop, and elsewhere. She was awarded a residency to attend Art Farm Nebraska, where she will work on her poetry collection this summer. She works in Manhattan as an editorial assistant and lives in Brooklyn with her pet cat, Willa.