It was the beginning of winter in Jersey City
when I left my hunger and the paper bag
of take-out Thai we’d driven to pick up
on the unfinished wood table of our third-floor
walkup apartment and walked to the park
in the middle of our neighborhood.
To say “park” is generous: a couple blocks
of grass and some bare trees swaying
ominously in the dark. I sat
down on the freezing bench
next to a rank garbage can, nauseous
with sorrow. I remembered
how your grandmother thought sitting
on cold surfaces caused infertility,
some Russian superstition you still half-believed.
I let the icy slabs chill through my jeans.
I thought you’d come for me.
I thought about my first kiss
at a different point along this same river,
how I’d watched smiley-faced plastic bags
float through the filth to say Please Come Again
as I caught my breath. You said it was movies
that made me think true love
meant someone running after you.
The park was dangerous—you never went
at night without a knife. You drove
for cigarettes, returned and drank
from my plastic cup of tea, bright orange
watered down by melting ice. I counted hours
and when I grew bored I knew
I must still want to be alive.
I tried to remember the story
I’d read about a garden where at night statues
come to life only to freeze again
by the morning. But Riverview-Fisk Park
was no garden, and I was no statue.
I couldn’t make myself inanimate.
At home I ate cold spring rolls
and lay down on our bedroom floor
while you organized your drawers
with white trays, assigning each garment a type.
You said I could take care of myself, never
wanting me to realize you were right.
Emily Banks is the author of Mother Water (Lynx House Press, 2020). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in 32 Poems, Heavy Feather Review, The Rumpus, Juke Joint, NCLR, The Cortland Review, Superstition Review and other journals. She lives in Atlanta, where she is a doctoral candidate at Emory University.