national anthology of the best undergraduate writing 2013
Poetry Prize Winner

Nail Polish

Wyatt McMurry  • 
Eckerd College

His nails weren’t coral but candy

cane red cadillac and dark—satin

lining of my mother’s purse, brains

of a crushed watermelon or even

the latex guts splashed over the rocks

in Tremors after Kevin Bacon tricks

the worm monster into falling off a

cliff. I’d never seen a boy with nails

like that so I went home and raided

my mother’s dressing table, wiped

swatches on computer paper shade by

shade to find out which one I liked.

Nail polish inflated dizzy in my forehead.

My sister sat me down on the bathroom

tile and painted sangria sunrise onto my

fingers and toes—each coat cold to the quick.

Came back to school next day swaggering

like a thick-thighed cowboy just come from

looting the injun he’d killed, my hands fanned

cactus blossoms. For days my mother’s

house shook with laughter until my father

saw me zooming up and down the stairs, my toes

searing holes in the carpet. His murmurings went

up like heat-stirred air from concrete—hardly

noticed until the smell of acetone rose in the kitchen

and they called me in and sat me down. She

took up my hands and feet in her hands and with

dipped cotton swabs erased clean the polish nail by

nail, my father looming. Decades later I am still

searching for that savage red they rooted out of me.