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December 11, 2017
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How to Keep a Secret

Photo by Amanda Reed

By Dorothy Hartz

Turn up the music.
Turn down the lights.
Pick up a poppy seed with tweezers.
Pink or red — how can you tell?

Seal it in an envelope. Tape all the seams.
Put the envelope in a plastic bag, the kind that zips.
On the next dark of the moon, bury the bag in the back yard.
Put a flowerpot over the spot.
Whistle whenever you walk past the flowerpot, but never look at it.
Chase the dog when it sniffs around the flowerpot.
Cross the street to avoid your next door neighbor.
Avoid bakeries, and veterans on Memorial Day.
Give the shirt you wore to bury the bag to the Salvation Army.
Change your phone number.
Move away.

Years later, on vacation, your old neighbor recognizes you
through the plastic surgery, though you’re careful to conceal your new name.
She has pictures she knows you’d love to see.
In one, something papery and powdery and outrageously pink
metastasizes on three lawns.
“What pretty cosmos,” you lie.
The words stick to your tongue like paper, like powder.

That night, in your hotel room, scrub your dumb tongue until it bleeds.
Turn up the air conditioner against the stale, sticky shame in the air.
Anchor soul to body on a twisting filament of guilt, a fine fragile green stem.
Petals bruised, pollen dead, float into the white noise.

Dream your end.
The heart twitch.
The cold hollow imploding in your chest.
Look inside.
Find, ossified,
a gray speck, dry in a scarlet ditch.