“Contronym Diner” by Cynthia Atkins

Reading by the author

Because I pulled back my name
from his tongue to ask what broke me
            in two?—What turns a heart from
star dust to chemical warfare?—
Because left means both remained
and departed.  Our bodies inflict dents
in the sofa, then disappear.
I know that lost doll in the road
           broken beyond repair.  
He found me in hell, I was a road-side bomb
in a war zone.  At 15, my parents junked
my belongings on the molten mown lawn.
            Because recovery depends
on the thrifty pockets of grief. Before me,
all the women catching a floor-length gown on fire,
          burning houses down. In the meantime
of our lives, so many grave
mistakes get made. Because bound means
heading to a destination and being restrained.   
The man across the table
from me has simple plans. 
             He wants it clean.  He feeds me soup. 
He takes me home, pays the rent.  He muzzles
This voice, tamps me down like pipe tobacco.
Gasoline pours on the blueprints of all my plans.
The earth is a portal, I dig and dig—
My ruby lipstick stamps DNA on all
the coffee mugs. Bolt means to secure or flee.

Cynthia Atkins is the author of Psyche’s WeathersIn The Event of Full Disclosure (CW Books), Still-Life With God (Saint Julian Press 2020). Her work has appeared in numerous journals, including Alaska Quarterly Review, BOMB, Cleaver Magazine, Diode, Florida Review, Green Mountains Review, Rust + Moth, North American Review, Seneca Review, Sundog Lit, Thrush, Tinderbox, and Verse Daily. She was formerly the assistant director for the Poetry Society of America, and has taught English and Creative Writing, most recently at Blue Ridge Community College, where she curated a quarterly reading Series, Lit-Salon. She is an Interviews Editor for American Microreviews and Interviews. Atkins earned her MFA from Columbia University and has earned fellowships and prizes from Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, The Writer’s Voice, and Writers@Work. Atkins lives on the Maury River of Rockbridge County, Virginia, with artist Phillip Welch and their family.  More work and info at cynthiaatkins.com.

Author photo: Anne Valerie Portrait

Image: Film still from “Isn’t there just as much potential for alienation and loneliness now” by Alan Coon

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