Illustration: birdbath photo digitally manipulated, split and reflected to suggest camel humps against sand

The Marriages: The camel

I wanted to tell them all

—the minute your spine went straight I curled like rope against you. they thought I’d twist to fit inside your hump (water to my ankles, shelter from the sandstorm). they thought me wedged, cramped, untenable. they whispered when I showed up alone that day, sneered of course I’d had to leave you home, exhaled apple-scented clouds of pity around my chin and oh,

I wanted to tell them

it was you with the javelin, you who were mine by the olive trees, under grapevines woven so tight they kept stars out. if they knew was each long jump, each skid through sand. if they knew. that was my love, the one with wristbones. the one with hidden teeth. to them, you’d come from nowhere. you were new, intangible, they swirled their words around you, heat, heat. and

I wanted to tell
them and I told them
I told them

—the victory party began without you,
my hand over my mouth,
the stiff scratch of your lips
was gone and you left behind
expectorants, coarse hair
on those silken pillows.

Gemma Cooper-Novack’s debut poetry collection We Might As Well Be Underwater, a finalist for the Central New York Book Award, was published by Unsolicited Press in 2017. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in more than twenty journals, including Glass, Midway Journal, and Lambda’s Poetry Spotlight, and been nominated for multiple Pushcart Prizes and Best of the Net Awards. Her plays have been produced in Chicago, Boston, and New York. Gemma was a runner-up for the 2016 James Jones First Novel Fellowship; she has been awarded artist’s residencies from Catalonia to Virginia and a grant from the Barbara Deming Fund. She is a doctoral candidate in Literacy Education at Syracuse University.

Illustration by C.B. Auder.

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