One year in The Life and Pimp Mike takes a few of us girls to the beach to celebrate. We don’t have suits, so we wear our bras and panties. I keep looking for signs. The gull on the boardwalk looks straight at me, turns away. The sand goes silent a million miles, out to the Atlantic that goes a million more. We trudge over dunes stuck with long, dry grass. Mike just picks a spot, tells us to sit. Froth caps the waves. I wade in, looking for signs. The waves roll over, break, withdraw. The sun slides back behind a cloud. When I get out, you can see through. Mike wants it for free. The girls hop up for a walk down the beach, not looking back, not wanting to check. I want to laugh hysterically, go to sleep. I kneel, bend my head, wait for signs. Nowhere do we have cream, a radio, chips. I could get burned. I could grow lost or hungry. Late tonight, I’ll think of Mike’s hand, gentle on my neck.
Pimp Mike tells us girls again we’re like a close family. I think we’re more like
a band of secrets that relates by mere proximity, a hostel that takes
care of each other like unsolvable problems. We drown out the whispers, the crying,
like a stone wall blocks the sea wind, a wall left with slits and dings
and hollows. With barbs, we slice each other’s hearts: the Greeks called it sarcasm,
a tearing of the flesh. We say it’s to keep us all tough, a boon to our
business, but some of us secretly like to give or receive pain, what we learned early.
I’m Angela, the white rock, the bright-hard queen, Pimp Mike’s most
righteous hand. I send the youngest of us out into the night to find new caves to mine.
Because why not? Why should she be exempt from the work most wet,
most dark, most deep? I’ve done it all my life, exiling Christy—my sister, myself—from
home. And when she comes back that first night, there’s no power like mine, her cash limp in my hand, and I imagine I can taste the salt on her thighs, her cheeks.
-- Liz Robbins' fourth collection, Night Swimming, won the 2023 Cold Mountain Press Annual Book Contest (Appalachian State U). Her third collection, Freaked, won the Elixir Press Annual Poetry Award, judged by Bruce Bond; her second collection, Play Button, won the Cider Press Review Book Award, judged by Patricia Smith. Her first collection is Hope, As the World Is a Scorpion Fish (U Nebraska), and her chapbook, Girls Turned Like Dials, won the 8th Annual YellowJacket Press Prize.