Stephanie Dickinson

The Thorn Apple Love Potion

Take a sparrow’s head
I want to sink my teeth into your wrist where the arteries’ crayon is scribbled and taste your racing heart. My mouth is a ripe blue plum for your teeth to bite. Who needs the brain of a thrush or the bones of a toad for a love potion? We ride the trains because there’s time between station stops. Rocio and Silk. Ace Deuce. We hold hands in a thousand different ways. You make me forget the bodega. Pretend we can’t hear and I’m talking to you through your skin. I write books on your palms. I list the Bill of Rights for the someday I (maybe) become a citizen. When you close your eyes I clean your lids with my tongue, licking your hair and the black waves where a muddy mermaid bathes. Train, never stop. The long rides, laughing, and when you reach between my legs, I’m flowing, a river of hot fleshy leaves. Touch me where I’ve never touched myself, until orchids spit out their tongues, and I cry as the old dragonfly conductor snatches our ticket stubs. You tell me it isn’t fair, we have nowhere to be alone.
A deer’s heart
Let’s never go back to the bodega where I sleep on an air mattress between cashier shifts.
The droppings of a stork
You find a slum house and show me which window to climb in. Rain gutters blow loose and rattle from the eaves. Each wall is painted a different peeling color. One green, one white, one red, one blue. Clumps of drying thistle and wild garlic dangle from the ceiling. First time don’t be frightened, you breathe in my ear. We keep meeting in the house with the garlic bulbs. Upstairs live three guys who (like me) need green cards. No more train rides past the sea oats and cattails. I miss the ducks paddling in the marshes, the flecks of dust stranded inside the train’s window. Tiny golden planets. When you love me I’m eighteen miles above the bodega. You’ll take me to Cancun. I’ll wear a thong bikini for only you. We’ll sit in wicker chairs with pink cushions and eat from bowls of figs and drink champagne. I don’t care about Cancun, Silk, I say. Then you’ll take me somewhere better. Ace Deuce, there’s nowhere better than here. My eyes glisten. I’m in trouble, you say, I have to get money.
It’s not my shift when the bodega is robbed. There’s blood in the air. Bullets. Red screams. Dark oil melting down the street’s cheek. The moon’s white dress falling to the ground. The crackle of their walkie talkies.
The fat of a snake
Weeks pass. You aren’t there or anywhere. I climb in the window and sit with the weed bouquets. When I ask your friends they shrug, haven’t seen you, maybe you and your ex-girl got married and moved to Panama City, maybe jail, maybe the debt collectors… Long and short Silk’s disappeared. My knuckles whiten; I bite my wrist and then my forearm. Until the pain goes away I’ll keep biting. I’m going to be a digger and poke the ground.
Silk, you put a baby into me, and now I’ll keep you, the black of your hair, and the cove of your breastbone. The train is in my belly, the flecks of dust stranded inside the window. Tiny golden planets. Soon I’ll hear from you.
The scalp of a locust
6:00 a.m. This is a different pain. I lean against the counter with the loose right handle. The customer is a large coffee, a fried egg sandwich, and a pack of sugarless gum. I’m trying to charge the breakfast on a debit card that keeps saying Error. I don’t know what to do. I’m being gutted from the inside, cramps fast and purple as if saran wrap is balling up in my throat. Water is rushing down my legs, a red stream. Bayonne is settled on a peninsula. Rocio, what is a peninsula? A body of land, surrounded on 3 sides by water. Newark Bay, Kill Van Kull, and New York Bay. You loved the animal way my skin stretched over muscle and bone. My body was embarrassed. How many Amendments are there in the Bill of Rights? Ten. Amendment 4 is the Freedom from Unreasonable Search and Seizure. How lucky to be born in the land of Amendment 4. My favorite is Amendment 8. Freedom from Cruel and Unusual Punishments.
The lung of a moth
The baby must be hiding in the orchid forest where he knows it’s safe. The orchids reach out to you, drawn to the heat of your hands. Oh, Silk, I’m the one-winged Monarch trying to fly but can’t and then more Monarchs come beating their wings over me. The water’s no longer a stream of death poisons but a green current you can see through. The sun is silvering the trees that crowd the banks, picking out the weed flowers.
The whisker of a donkey
They raid the bodega. Strip it, take it all off. “Your chest is huge. I guess you’re feeding the baby,” says the skinny woman made fat by her uniform. Goya beans, ramen, and powdered milk. I spread my feet, almost trip “Shake out your hair,” she tells the air. “Lean forward.” She uses her stick fingers to comb out my mussed chestnut hair “Put your head back let me look up your nose.” I stick out my tongue, roll my bottom lip back, while she rolls my upper lip. “Raise your arms, show your armpits, and hen lift your breasts by the nipples. Are you sure you’re not having twins?” Her weirdly soft hands travel over my stomach. “Feels like a beach ball.”
Wing of a Beetle
The cramps clutch me and my breath is coming out in jagged pieces. Wet keeps trickling down my leg, I’m leaving a puddle. They roll me into the triage room. A nurse changes me into a hospital gown. “We’re hooking your belly up to a monitor.” The security guard waits and then shackles my right ankle to the bed. Heavy iron manacle. “Do you need to do that?” the nurse asks. “She’s a high risk. Her boyfriend was MS-13. She’s a gang girl.” My boyfriend was. He might know where you are. “Rocio, you’re in labor,” the nurse says, in her comforting, lightly spiced accent. Haiti. Hold on, hold my hand if you can’t stand it. You’re tiny so the baby may have to squirm his way out.” The snake coiled inside me keeps squeezing.
I need mandrake to call you to me. The datura orchid brings thick white sleep. Make powder from a pork bone. I’m inside the contractions, sweating. I picture deportation, pizza boxes used as pillows, plastic bags. Two hours of contractions. Counting, beats. Nick’s Chinese Foot Rub, Dolores Beauty Salon (Hispanics on big rollers) Spicy Miso. The ants are here inside me. Part of me has gone to sleep and the rest of me is on fire. Push push. Monarchs hover above, cooling me. I am the injured one, push. Its head is coming. Push. They bring me the baby boy, how beautiful he is. The smell of a blanket just washed out of the dryer but better. Does the baby favor me? My tiny ears and the beauty mark dropped like a comma on my upper lip? I lift up my arms but they won’t let me hold him. They’re stealing him my born-in-the-USA baby. My baby free from unreasonable seizures. Gang girl you are going away. The thorn apple is trumpet-shaped so fill it with grape song, beet leaves and pumpkin flowers.
Tea of Nightshade
Birds fly to the country named Death. I miss you. How strange the trees look at daybreak, their leaves never falling in the yellow weather, but fading just turning a famished sickly yellow-green. The trees are confused. Like the rooftop song sparrows. In Independence Park the homeless settle into their igloos of filthy comforters, even their faces are covered. Inside other sleeping bags, couples share the soiled warmth.
The monarchs keep lighting on my shoulders and I feel them drinking my nectar. Like you they want to taste me and then fly away. Where-ever I’m going you go too. The plane tries to whirr you away like small birds but you stay.


Stephanie Dickinson lives in New York City. Her novels Half Girl and Lust Series are published by Spuyten Duyvil, as is her feminist noir Love Highway. Other books include Heat: An Interview with Jean Seberg, (New Michigan Press), Flashlight Girls Run (New Meridian Arts), and Girl Behind the Door (RMP). Her work has been reprinted in Best American Nonrequired Reading, New Stories from the South, and 2016 New Stories from the Midwest. She is the editor of Rain Mountain Press. Currently she’s writing a collection of essays entitled Maximum Compound based on her longtime correspondence with inmates at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women in Clinton, New Jersey.