Lancing the Toe & Unbreakable

LANCING THE TOE

In the middle of surviving you, I sat on the sidewalk
outside the bookshop that paid me too little, sterilized a safety pin
with the flame of a lighter and stabbed it through my right
big toe. The blood pulsing under the keratin flooded out
like a fountain, drenching my foot in warm plasma, and the nail
sunk down in its bed, just a little, as if it suddenly realized
it was holding its breath. When you explained I would need to
do this a few times, coaching me through it on my threadbare carpet
while the sharp end of the pin glowed like a fireplace poker,
I did not blame you, or your other women, or the desk I dropped
on my foot while I pictured you kissing them. Do it now, you told me,
push hard, don’t think. I trusted you to be right about this, if
nothing else. The world went white, and for a second the scream
of that tiny fang into the throbbing black pulp demolished
all sound, but then the relief was so pure my skin sang,
shivering up from the toe to the top of my head, the way my body
would not stop responding to you. From then on I did it twice a day;
each time I burned the hot steel tip through the protective shell,
I could sit on the ground, lean into something that would
not give, and watch my erythrocytes pour out to devour the oxygen,
red and voracious and free. This is to say, I win.

UNBREAKABLE

Again, Margo shouted, teeth shining in the dark. Do it again.
Stacy ground the gears and backed up, tires screaming on packed
white snow. Chris inhaled quick, eyes half her face. Small-town
kind of dark, made darker by stars punching black cardstock sky:
Lite Brite with only one color. Stacy surfed the snowdrift again,
jerked the wheel at the perfect second so the four-door rose up
on two side wheels, skating the crust, blooming all over the clean
bank like a bruise. The sky tilted, drunk. My brain crashed into
the left wall of my skull. Again, I slammed the seat with my hands,
again! We hit reverse, pinned our feet to the floor and gunned it,
hawks after a hot kill, fixing to shake our lives loose, faster faster
can’t this thing go any faster, third time, fourth, fifth, I didn’t dare
breathe and Margo was laughing, sharp cracks like gunshots,
and Stacy’s forehead filled the rearview, creased tight. Rock salt
scarred the windows, sealing us in: four young girls aimed hard
at the world, spitting like dynamite, glinting like diamonds.

About the author

Betsy Housten

Betsy Housten is a Jersey-born, Brooklyn-bred queer femme writer and massage therapist. Her work has been published in Little Red Tarot, Glassworks, NILVX, Ellipsis, We'll Never Have Paris, and Hoax Zine. She is a 2018 Pushcart Prize nominee in poetry, and was a finalist for the 2017 Samuel Mockbee Nonfiction Award. She lives in New Orleans, where she is currently pursuing her MFA in poetry.