OXIDANT | ENGINE : Issue 11

Emily Banks

FISH PEDICURE

When you asked the man if men

could do it too he said Yes, but only men

who love their girlfriends. All day

I’d been walking out of rhythm, a pace

behind your friends, through the city

we learned was divided into halves,

Buda and Pest. Nothing they said

was funny and my flats were wearing

blisters in my ankles, two little bubbles

fat and smooth as glass. I thought

about "The Little Mermaid," not Disney,

the story by Hans Christian Andersen

where the sea witch lets the mermaid go

to shore to marry the young prince

she saved from a storm but every step

with her newfound feet feels like walking

on sharpened knives. The small gray fish

nibbled my sores, leaving raw

indentations like 2-Euro coins. Later I’d learn

they don’t really enjoy eating human skin,

they’re kept starving. The prince

didn’t remember the mermaid,

so she had to throw herself back to the waves,

her body dissolving to transparent foam

invisible to mortal eyes. I guess

it isn’t so much that I learned love

meant every step should be painful,

but that I thought it would make pain matter less.

In the Airbnb, you used tiny scissors to cut

the ragged blister skin still clinging on

and each night cleaned the raw spots

with alcohol pads, fixing a cross of Band-Aids

at my heel. I was too proud to limp

or let your friends see me wince. I walked

across the bridge that split

the city in two, each step a searing jolt.

I thought if I could make it

to the other side I’d be alright.

Below, the Danube glistened with the lights

it stole. They waved to me

in shaky transmissions, beckoning,

but I told myself the ground was worth the hurt.

Emily Banks is the author of Mother Water (Lynx House Press, 2020). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in 32 Poems, Heavy Feather Review, Bear Review, Juke Joint, The Cortland Review, Superstition Review, and other journals. She received her MFA from the University of Maryland and currently lives in Atlanta, where she is a doctoral candidate at Emory University. You can find her on Twitter @auntaminal.