Wandering Madonnas by Travis Cohen

Travis Cohen is a Miami born writer currently living in Los Angeles. Travis is a graduate of Vanderbilt University’s creative writing program and a regular contributor to the Miami New Times. He has been working on a collection of poems and stories, as well as his first novel, “Trouble Republic.”

Wandering Madonnas

I met a girl in Tangier.
Her name was Cleopatra
and to see her was to see the majesty
of a life lived in the African sun,
to marvel in the presence of a body
that glowed in a bronzen shade of gold.
I imagined my hands in the depths
of her dirty blonde curls,
resplendent rivulets of hair
that bounced whenever she laughed
and smelled subtly of the beach grapes
that grew between tufts of jasmine along the coast.
We drank mint tea in the afternoons
and wandered through the Socco;
at night, we sat on the hillside and smoked hashish
as she rolled cigarettes
for us to share on the way home.

I met an Estonian girl from Tallinn
at a green grocer in Sunny Isles,
the sort of place
where the pickled herring was expensive and shitty and sought after
and the vodka was cheap and wonderful and commonplace.
Her name was Kristianna.
She was taller than I might have hoped
and I couldn’t help but wonder
what her long porcelain legs would feel like
underneath my ragged, well-worn sheets,
spattered with droplets of booze
and the brown-ringed burns of mindlessly discarded ash.
She had a mane of copper red hair
that exploded in juxtaposition
with the flowing green dress she’d worn
without a bra
but with a pair of sheer black panties that I could see
hugging her beneath the transparency of long linen.
Her teeth were short and sharp
like those of a goblin
or a small lizard
and her eyes were the sort of blue
that’s so sad
it makes no sense at all.

I met a girl in Manhattan,
whose name I can’t recall,
under the streets of SoHo
as we waited for the Brooklyn-bound J train.
She was sweating under the fluorescence
and that obscene kind of New York heat
that molests you
with the slow, intent oppressiveness
of a 60 year-old pervert full of methadone.
Her body was thin and pale and covered in tattoos
that glistened in the grime of the stale white lights.
She couldn’t stop screaming about the rats.
Every time a nimble clump of brown fur
darted from one shadow to another
she’d start screaming again
and grab my wrist,
pulling my arm closer
to all those glistening tattoos.
All the years she’d lived in the City, she said,
she’d never seen a rat before that night.
I had only been in New York 2 days
and I already knew that the rats
who scurried in fear underground
were nothing in comparison to the rats
who scurried in fear above.

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