—a pecha kucha à la Terrence Hayes   


[Dusty Dog]

The airport in Key West maintains a bar at baggage claim. It is easy to tell which passengers are arriving home; only tourists are queuing for the bland slushies at The First Call. In a week I will learn that the level for departures offers “the world’s only airport beach,” but I will eat my Uncrustable in ready view of my gate.


[Rum Runner]

My friends are off snorkeling in the nearest reef and I am on the boat, eating the horizon like bread. The captain insists I will feel less sick if I am in the water, so I leap off the boat fully clothed and cling to a life preserver tethered to the stern. The sea is still roiling but now I roil with it. I wonder if I was a pain in the ass while in the womb. Almost certainly yes.


[Conch Flyer Bloody Mary]

Key West is 90 degrees in October and so humid I become blank. Words slide off of me like mascara, all meaning is steaming from my pores. I study the signs pockmarked in sweat across the backs of locals’ tank tops, wet Rorschachs shifting as I fail to read them.


[Prohibition Punch]

I flash an out-of-date student ID and pay the reduced fee to climb the historic lighthouse, but then find I can’t do it. D— scales the helixed stairs alone and sends a photo down to me. Later I claim I don’t know what keeps me from climbing. K— suggests the specific way you’d fall.


[Meatloaf’s Green Banana]

I need to remove a vertebra from my spine. It’s all too tight back there, no give. I watch a gentleman saunter down Duval Street in only a large pair of white angel wings, his bored penis in full view — it is Friday — and his gait catches my attention, the loose amble which starts near his L5.



My friends — bless them — won’t let me drift the way I am prone to. Yes, they allow me to read while they kayak through the mangroves together, but for most of our trip they request sips of my cocktails, photos of my niece, and what news I am able to offer about my mother. K— researches dessert shops, J— wants to sneak into the pool at night. If they check to see if I’ve shaved my legs — I’ve been worried about this — they are discreet about it.



[Papa’s Punch]

When Ernest Hemingway’s swimming pool was completed — the only pool within 100 miles, at the time — they say he tossed a copper penny onto the concrete. His last cent. Key West didn’t even have ready access to fresh water in the 1930s; the salt water had to be drained and refilled every few days. Elizabeth Bishop loved the pool. I read all this while avoiding cats.


[Grain Train]

At a tapas restaurant a Russian bartender notices my tattoos and grills me about folklore. I shout over the music about Baba Yaga’s mortar and pestle; he does not lift his voice as he describes Koschei the Deathless. For once I am grateful it’s so hot that I’ve kept my arms bare, sweat gathering on the lip of my matryoshka.


[Bluecoat Collins]

Last week Hurricane Ian ripped all the cabanas from the hotel’s pier, including the one my friends and I had reserved. An industrious young man ferries my drinks to the side of the pool and it takes me ages to shuffle to him, smiling with my back teeth as I tiptoe the length of the pool, my breasts displaying the grace of a pontoon boat.


[Comtesse de Malet]

On the same day that I visit the iconic black and red buoy which symbolizes the southernmost point of the continental U.S., my mother visits the northernmost point, in Washington. I discover this through a selfie she forgets to block me from seeing. The metaphor is so straightforward that I involuntarily sneer, my top lip arching, and I assume that across the country her bottom lip droops in response.


[True Colors]

I plow through three novels in a week. I want J— to lift her eyes from the wheeling frigatebirds and quiz me on my books, maybe invite me to give a little report. Why did Allende choose to set her story in a snowstorm?, she might want to know. How did Atwood approach her contemporary retelling of The Tempest? Of all possible stories, why bring natural disasters to the beach?


[Golden Cadillac]

Wednesday night? Thursday? Every evening the fire dancer sweats against a sunset and I know what she will say before she says it. J— and I overtip and slip away during the routine. In a violently air-conditioned store along the plaza I consider an olive oil bottle with a cigarette- smoking iguana painted up the side. My family is hard to shop for.



[Sasha’s Garden]

I can’t remember the last time a girlfriend has clutched my arm and told me a secret. When J— does, I am so moved — so platonically aroused, so primordially included — that I paw through my mind for something worth whispering back. She already knows the good stuff.


[Ruby Slipper]

I am sober, even when I drink. I can’t help it, I am not the letting go type. I never let the wobble in. Don’t make me march stone-faced into the clothing-optional bar or perform karaoke at the home of the sloppy joe. My anxiety keeps me dry as a kite. You are holding up two fingers.


[Smoky Dick’s Spicy Mix]

I want to want to be here. The four of us stand on the sandbar and chew banana-chocolate croissants, lifting them high between bites to avoid the waves, warm as bath water. From the boat our rent-a-captain flaps his arms toward distant lightning. I polish off my croissant before executing the indecent maneuver required to straddle my kayak.



Souvenirs I purchase in Key West: Two shirts featuring roosters. A rash guard that says “Endless Summer.” Postcards from the lighthouse I did not climb. The Sun Also Rises. Earrings shaped like slices of key lime pie.


[B’s Knees]

You should see the casual way that D— sinks into his lounge chair, as though the heat has molded his seat to the exact curve of his back. He snaps photos of wild roosters, pulls his hair into a low knot, and nurses a frozen piña colada. I position myself downwind to try to catch his personal current, let it lift me like a gull.


[Moondog Mary]

I have a wish to make. I choose a brown pelican, aloof and hungry. Along the storm-littered beach I hunt for the right fish that resembles my specific prayer. Maybe I can throw it as the pelican circles low. The fish see this plan in my eyes. I must not have been the first to attempt it.


[Goombay Smash]

The tops of my knees are burnt from perching myself on the boat’s sun deck and trusting I have applied invisible swaths of reef-safe sunscreen in the right places. Two shell-pink flags now create a private semaphore as I walk. If I could cartwheel I would double my alphabet. I grow tired of my own secret languages.



[Root of All Evil]

A waitress schleps a full tray to a nearby table, weaving between wild hens. Her key lime pies wear bouffants of meringue so high and light they wiggle as she walks. All four of our heads swivel to follow the tray, but when the waitress returns we split the check and go in search of a better dessert. We never find one.