“Desire Lines” by Alison Braid, from Arc’s 2020 Shortlist

Desire Lines

Through the early damp hours, the bus
runs its first red. From the street, a man models a gun
of his baguette and shoots me.

Last night, he fired
a different loaf at a different girl and neither of us,
stubborn tourists, lay down

and died. I know what it’s like
to let someone down. My blood gathers
its resources and continues running the circuit.

“I don’t have to be nice today,” says the bus driver
with eyes like wading pools,
“it wasn’t in my horoscope.” He refers

to the passenger listening to celestial noise
who asks to be let off at the fire hall
on Rua das Floras. She fashions herself fully clothed

in the eye of her beholder,
then makes herself smaller still.
Outside, a boy jaywalks, vaults

a barricade on the very place some brilliant worker
identified a desire line on Porto’s roadway,
knew the route of our want and how to impede

the travel. “Please,”says the passenger, whose cropped
red hair is growing in as she speaks and striking
a blaze atop her head. “He shot me,”

I try in my high, harsh English, meaning
the man with the bread, four corners ago.
The driver meets his own depths in the mirror,

his blowsy luck at finding us here, and puts his foot
to the pedal, slings us into our second
red of the morning. Further down the block, a girl,

the size of a prickly pear, wears a tutu and green
strappy sandals, looks both ways
and crosses the street.

She’s carrying a fishbowl
and it’s leaking, and we’re all of us in it,
blinking inside.

nina jane drystek on “Desire Lines”

From the first red light to the second, “Desire Lines” creates an informal route cutting through reality at a slant. The surreal guides the poem’s images and ideas as the speaker rides through Porto’s streets. While the poem and speaker seemingly exit the desire line after the second red light, the arresting image of the leaking fishbowl forces us to question reality from every angle, especially our own.

Alison Braid is the author of the chapbook Little Hunches (Anstruther Press, Spring 2020.) Her work has been published in Bad Nudes, The Puritan, Prairie Fire, CV2, Poetry Is Dead, and elsewhere. Her poems have received Honourable Mention in Grain’s 2018 Short Grain Contest, and been shortlisted for CV2’s 2018 Young Buck Poetry Prize. She can be found online at alisonbraid.com.

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