Red Flags

kami westhoff

You could’ve been mother and son, but when he took
your hand in his raspy palm and led you from the bar
outside, you decided, for once, to yield to the burden
of what your body. You would be sixty soon, and there
were regrets you still wanted to render.

How beautiful you must’ve felt that night when he chose
you over women so young you could have birthed them.
His words softened the chasms scattered around your eyes,
pricked your cheeks bubblegum pink.

Together you walked the trail that hemmed the bay.
The moon rolled its shark eye in the onyx ocean of sky.
Toads, throats swollen with croak, barked from the marsh,
hushed only by the crackle of footsteps on the gravel.

Perhaps you talked about things you’d lost, a lover, a child,
or things you couldn’t stop finding. Maybe he spoke about
his wife, the sweet letters his daughter signed with a dozen
Xs and Os before he slipped his hand beneath your shirt.
Maybe, for a time, lulled by his breath scattering your skin
with goosebumps, he gave you something you would’ve never
forgotten before he forced you into forever.

If only you’d unstitched your gaze from his tide pool eyes
and noticed the shore’s warnings: stoic gulls, beaks burrowed
into pleated wings; seals blacking the surface with their oil-slick
skin; crabs, flaring their frantic red claws. If only you’d seen
the man he was trying not to be, inched inland, slipped away
while he scoured the shore for the best stones, his every step an
apocalypse, each stone’s skip a slit in the ocean’s stoic skin.


Kami Westhoff is the author of Sleepwalker,winner of Minerva Rising’s Dare to Be Contest, and Your Body a Bullet, co-written with Elizabeth Vignali. Her work has appeared in various journals including Meridian, Carve, Third Coast, Passages North, West Branch, and Waxwing. She teaches creative writing at Western Washington University.