soda clock

Philemaphobia: The Fear of Kissing

I practiced in the mirror for hours—tongue, no tongue—
cold glass against my inexperience, silver against pink.
I gazed at my own clumsiness,
gawking and grimacing, and hiding my bottom lip behind my teeth.
Advice on boys from my sister like a script
etched into the skin on the back of my hand.

She said she learned on other girls. Sleepovers beyond midnight
became cul de sac séances of superstitious mumbles and snickers.
The sticky husk of a Jones soda like a clock hand,
chiming off the hours with a chorus of snorts and spitty smacks.
Lots of practice, she said.

“If he goes all the way first—you know, French—let him do what he wants.”
I shivered in the milky sun of June, mouth half-open
in a reluctant snore, like a toddler chewing his beans
and, while still not liking the taste, unsure of where to spit his cud.

I made myself vomit and brushed him
out of my mouth for fifteen minutes until I could feel
a new tongue growing in place of the old one. I buried the toothbrush
in the kitchen trash.

“And whatever you do, don’t bite his tongue.” She drew a face
on an orange, said practice on your hand. Watch how I do it.
She called her boyfriend, more than eager to apply for the position
of teaching assistant. Before he could tell me, “It’s all
about technique,” I could taste my new tongue remember
where it had been, as if every drop of saliva vanished,
as if it passed like a ghost through my skin
and became cold sweat behind my collar.

When I fail the effortless, it looks the same as when I smile.
They laugh, “Look, look at that. You can tell he’s trying too hard.”