Mark My Words to Watch Me

by Melissa L. Amstutz

The man speaks on the train and everyone wants to hear. Placating him is a sunglasses and sundress clad woman next to him. So loudly he details various political prisoners with a curious tone suggesting everything he knows is both sacred and stupid. Perhaps it’s more of a constant shifting confidence. This continues for the next ten stops.

“Your words are starting to slur,” the woman says, right before the train crosses the river. “Let’s get you coffee before work.” No vagueness of timbre or ambiguous lilt detected.

“Sally Sells Seashells by the Seashore See I did it,” the man says.

“Yes, but altered. You still sound altered.”

“At least I had the wherewithal to drink water. At least I have you with me.”

A hand squeeze is exchanged with the delicacy of intertwined cat tails.

“Repeat,” she says.

Box of Biscuits Box of Biscuits Box of Biscuits


I devour this mantra, steal it for myself. Filling a glass of water, hitting an elevator button, scratching behind my dog’s ears it’s quietly guiding me Box of Biscuits Box of Biscuits Box of Biscuits


Not even a week later it’s taken from me. It was a flimsy, stolen grip to begin with. I say taken but really it was switched out with words meant for me, directed at me, shouted especially for me. I try to squeeze the hand I try to pinpoint the exact frequency of the hissing train, the smoke lifting in the heat but nothing defeats this new one. It doesn’t help I recorded it. I say it was self defense and really I didn’t know it would stick. But was it self-loathing. I press play. I hear Ugly Ass Dyke Ugly Ass Dyke Ugly Ass Dyke Ugly Ass Dyke and take note of the pitch, volume, sincerity.



by Melissa L. Amstutz

I collect reactions like I do seashells, place and scrutinize and label, keep them covered until I’m ready for the water to seep, transfer.

Am I overreacting. Are we safe. I glance out all the windows, take the other side of the street, we circle the block before we park. I heard her on the phone and that voice. I couldn’t stop trembling.

The police officer asks us:

Did you file a police report for the following incidents: Egged car (vandalism), kicked fence (property damage) and object thrown at the dog (animal cruelty) – and did you mention that you suspect those are bias crimes due to homophobic slurs and experience with other gay couples?

The police officer asks us:
Was there ever a time when you and this neighbor had an amicable relationship? Why did the behavior start—when she found out your sexual orientation?

I think of the car door I tried to shut that she caught when we first met. A rage under something, not fully formed. But it was roommate. I was L’s roommate.

Why did the hostile behavior start. When did she find out.

I think of slow dancing in the middle of winter, our dogs tap-tapping around us, crowding us until all twelve feet are tangled.

I think of how we say one more kiss. Now one more kiss. I think of an annoyed shout from the kitchen. BABE. I think of sitting on the porch and watching L in the garden.  When did she find out.

But am I overreacting.

Out the window she pads around her painted deck surrounding her squat above-ground pool. A white duck wearing sunglasses floats. The duck is always there. She wears a bikini top and cheetah sarong.  She stares up towards nothing for a long time. She’s holding a hose and it’s directed not quite exactly into the pool, though the water finds its way.

I turn around, sitting on the bed with the wall against my back. I’m Annie singing Maybe out the window. As a kid our created worlds were always orphans, orphanages. That was just practice; I’m ready now. My cat is in her own bed, my two dogs with me on mine. I can see them so I can rest now. Just rest now.

everything is just right
everything is not just
so we sink unmoored
one shoreline one

Melissa L. Amstutz is a writer, musician, and bookseller at Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon. She received her MFA from NYU. Her writing has appeared in Smartish Pace and fog machine; her music has been featured on Interview, Nylon, and Bust. You can find more at her online home: