national anthology of the best
undergraduate writing 2010


The Sailor in Love with the Sea, Meghan Oretsky

the junkie at the spanish kfc is asking for money again
he asks first in spanish
then english
in between he offers russian
he is desperate
he must be smart
tattoos of spider webs on the back of each elbow
his blonde hair greasy with drug sweat
I wonder when his parents saw him last
kicked him out first
I wonder what russian girl he must have slept with
what beautiful american he must have dreamt about
if that pin-up girl he has
on the fleshy inside part of his upper arm
was someone he loved
or wanted to love


he shows her to me as if telling a secret
or bartering for a better offer
when I say only one euro
for the third time this week
fights the junkie’s urge
to shake the fives and tens out of my bra
where my señora says is the best place to hide
anything you couldn’t bear to lose
the lone scritch-scratch of money scraping my skin
because you can’t hide people in your bra


but he must feel he can convince me
with the blues of her sailor girl outfit
golds of the buttons decorating her breasts
the fleshy peach of her korean war calves
glossy black of her pumps
how he wears her heart under his sleeve
turns over his arm pocketed with track marks
this one from that night in barcelona
that one from down by the docks
with a girl whose name he’d forgotten
because she was rough and scarred
and had never been as beautiful as a pin-up
and he rolls up his short sleeve
makes a muscle shirt that seems ironic


takes my hand
and I cannot pull away
I would later swear the skin there was hotter
was raised up singing
was the only spot on his body
not pockmarked
only scarred


and I trace her legs
her breasts
her heart
him holding fast like an anchor
the people who walk past
I imagine them staring
clandestine coupling outside the kfc
but I will keep her safe
pull out twenties
even fifties
scrawl something like
hope you find her
over the president’s face
scratch that
I hope she finds you
when I really mean
I hope she finds me too