Michelle Lee


They only work once a year, the old men who collect the virginities
from Times Square. No one knows where they go the rest of days or
where they take the carcasses, the shells stringy as the inside
of unscraped pumpkins, the slick selkie skins, the sticky peels of girls gone.

They wait until the noise coppers down and slips like a penny
skinnying through the cover of a man-hole; six knobs of bone and overcoat
pushing carts through broken glass and the smell of pieces tossed
in the air, the burning of a countdown. They do not wear gloves.

Each virginity is different: a myth, a fantasy, a cautionary tale, something formerly
curled beneath the covers at age ten with one hand pressed against the button
of a flashlight and the other crimping the pages of something more than a kiss
something given without toll

something taken without surprise
a tang like rhubarb left on the tongue
a dark shade of pink like the word finally
a swear word that shucks inhibition like corn

They kneel on suede patches sewn onto their dungarees. Sometimes they pinch
gently between thumb and forefinger, lightly brush the asphalt from the organ; sometimes
it cowers in the cup of their hand, still shaking. One or two will aria, launch

into La Bohème. They say a few words over each, syllables rhyming with sympathy
and godspeed, but not quite and never the same. They clean each carcass, shell,
selkie, and peel with a solution of chamomile beneath a pressed white towel.
They stitch together bits that flop like giblet, let the pounding slow.

They collect them one by one before the bars make way for breakfast, before
some women-girls wake to an unfamiliar rug four blocks from the ball drop
a loop of plastic around their necks that stopped glowing midtown
the world tinted green by glasses shaped like the year

and I love you. They smile at the way those shimmer and don’t look back.
They tuck the virginities into brown burlap sacks and tie them
with string. They fill their carts, they move along.

Michelle Lee received her MA in creative writing and PhD in English Literature from the University of Texas at Austin. Her writing has been published in a variety of academic and literary publications, and this past year, Red Bridge Press nominated one of her poems, published in their "Writing That Risks" anthology, for a Pushcart Prize. She is one of the poetry editors for Rivet Journal and also is an associate professor of composition and creative writing at Daytona State College.

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