“Sestina with Tangerines, Plaster and Teeth” by Courtney Justus

Sestina with Tangerines, Plaster and Teeth

To our chests we held the tangerines
like lanterns plucked from the June sky.
Peeled the skin with our vulpine teeth
until neon blossoms fell to our feet. The Moon
stuttered in and out of view, a wink of plaster
in a sky ballooning above fields of green.

I chain-linked looping hearts in green
on our casts. Fed you slices of tangerines,
carefully so they didn’t drip on the plaster
casts, yours or mine. I gaped at the grapefruit sky
from our room, hung portraits of the Moon,
hammering copper nails sharp as teeth.

The love I know sticks to the back of your teeth
long after you’ve scrubbed them clean, pools green
in mouths wide enough to swallow the Moon.
It nests below avian tongues, their tangerine
beaks carving sapphire slices of the sky
and widening the tight grip of our plaster.

You’re a tender bird molded by plaster.
I’ve always loved you but my onyx teeth
are cut on ragged men who leer at the sky.
They know it turns beer bottle green
in storms. I once fed them dried-up tangerines
as funnel clouds silenced the summer moon.

Our hole-constellated walls like a melted Moon
are storm-pocked mirages. Powdered plaster
rains on cracked bowls of tangerines
we abandoned to dig our budding teeth
into a fortress of cake and stretch across green
grass like cats, limbs swinging toward the sky.

Let’s shake our waxing fists at the sky,
until it sheds its spare change like forgotten moons,
says make of these a missive, good youth. Green-
specked pennies will rain on our dented plaster.
I’ll bring them to my lips, bare my teeth,
hope pennies will grow trees of tangerines.

Show me your milky teeth, young bird. Let the Moon
strike your green eyes with gold striations, like sky
leaking, plaster cracking. Let us feast on tangerines.

Courtney Justus is a 2022 Tin House YA Workshop alumna and Best of the Net nominee. She earned her MFA from the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Her work appears in Sky Island Journal, Jet Fuel Review, Valparaiso Fiction Review and elsewhere. You can learn more about her at courtneyjustuswriter.wordpress.com and on Instagram @courtneyjustuswriter.