Let me remove your hands from my neck.
Let me emerge from the dark closet haunted
by your pastel dresses, Dad’s Winchester leaning
upright in the back corner. Let my breath stay steady—
no halting—when I hear cicada and smell honeysuckle,
when I stand between a dusk held up by pines and memory.
Let me avoid your beloved White Zinfandel, and let me
not avoid it just because of you. Let my jaw-line
not square off into the evidence of stress-ground-teeth.
Let my brown eyes never hazel and my dark hair never
blonde—let me not look like you—strong and upright,
a heartbreaker from a past life. A heartbreaker still.
Let me continue your habit of cussing too much.
Let me remain good at mental math, as you divvied
out tips and paid bills, no calculator. Let me remain
horrible at directions, my inner-compass masked
by magnets. Let me sleep at night without rising
to watch from behind a curtain (how many times
I caught you stiff in the dark because you heard a car).
Let me know not all are out to lie to me, steal from me,
or rape me. Let me trust someone, and let me let them go.
Let me remember how you used to prune pale roses
with blood and dirt on your calloused hands.
Let me remember your command to never marry.
Let me love. Let me love you, still.
Let me remove your hands from my neck forever.

Kristi Carter has poems published or forthcoming in journals such as
Spillway Magazine, So to Speak, CALYX Journal, and Hawai’i Review.
She is originally from the foothills of North Carolina. She currently
lives in Nebraska.