J.L. Smith lives in Eagle River, Alaska. When she is not writing, she drinks too much hot tea and obsesses about everything involving Russia. Her work has appeared in Cirque, Eunoia Review, and Yellow Chair Review, among others. See more of her work at her blog jlsmithwrites.com.
raises a black flag over your consciousness,
taunting you with a battle of bands:
a cacophony of Doc McStuffins
and the counting of sheep and other fluffy,
nonviolent animals that dance over a ravine
to a playlist of 80’s music
you can’t recall later when you are awake.
It teases you with R.E.M. sleep.
No, not the “It’s the End of the World” type,
but more the “Losing My Religion” type as images
of self murder and falling off of bridges grow
intertwined with children swimming at a lake.
Instead of surrendering,
you plant a picnic in April,
when the Midwest winds are cool enough
to remind you of the cold past,
but warm enough to give you hope
of the indulgent heat to come.
As you twist your toes over the cotton
plaid blanket beneath you,
your forearm covers your eyes from the sun’s glare.
The buzzing of honey bees
and the hum of a lawnmower rock you a lullaby:
as you hope it is
more than just a dream.
She gyrated against the pole, but not
to the beat of the Kylie Minogue song
that played in the background
in the juicy bar, as her eyes zoned out
beyond the drunk American airmen
and Korean businessmen, the layers of
smoke and watered down shots of
cherry soju she had to sell later on,
beyond the walls and dirty streets
of Songtan, South Korea to the Odessa
she had long left,
but not forgotten.
The black wrap dress squeezed
the tops of her firm breasts and thighs
as the Korean flagged her to his table,
palm faced inward as it waved.
Later, the American beckoned her to his lap
with a crook of his index finger.
His ten thousand Korean won bought her
warm buttocks and watery lemon soju.
His wallet was thick and the airman
lonely without the wife from Georgia.
The Ukrainian with the gray eyes
and golden hair who patted his lap,
as she dreamt she was dead,
was good enough.
She had a son named Volodya
whom she wanted to see again
run across the green fields,
catch the ball and laugh,
and to see her mother’s eyes once more,
even if mama would not look
her in the eye ever again.
Before the local mafia took her visa
and the female Korean bar owner bought
her servitude, she dreamt of college
and life outside the shoe factory,
but the gentleman sold her life
and dreams to another land.
Her boss gave her the nod,
the bar fine had been paid,
and she was to leave the bar and
give the airman something she had
stopped feeling a long time ago.
But, he was too drunk to notice
the open window in the dingy apartment
he rented blocks down from the bar
and allowed her to close the bathroom door.
Beyond the square of the open window,
she saw Volodya’s eyes
in the street lights off in the distance.
Squeezing through the darkness,
the black knit dress ripped,
shredded and scraped raw
against her skin as she glided
through the hole like a diver in the open water,
before falling like a fish to the ground,
where she flopped naked, and ran,
ran to Volodya,
ran into the dark night,
until they wouldn’t let her run anymore.