I Had My First Kiss!

My niece’s text arrives as the newscaster
announces a bomb landing just outside Jerusalem.
Was it what you hoped for?

I text back, delight
battling instant anxiety
(don’t get pregnant!).

The voice on the radio intones
a preliminary body count.
She’s eaten from the Tree of Knowledge

and all I see is the garden gate
closing behind her, her holy city
bombed, the harvest burnt,

every olive tree uprooted.
Write down what happened
and how you feel,

I text to a 14-year-old who reads
little more than status updates.
What am I thinking? Celebration

in the refugee camps
the voice reports, but already
jets overhead, childhood

scrambled by a mother bent
on drinking away her own
damaged youth—maybe my niece’s

childhood’s been over for a long time
or maybe I’m the one who’s stuck
in the old story, the one

where any taste of sweetness is paid for
with years of bitter herbs. Look twice
before you cross that border,

I’m begging, while she’s tasting
snowflakes on her tongue.
Learn to tell your own story,

I want to write
(to her, to me?).
Put what’s delicious

in your own words
so you can keep it. No matter
what comes next.

-Elizabeth Austen

*Originally published in Monarch Review.

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