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.