Means, liqueur distilled from small, black
mascara cherries. Means, cherries preserved
in that liqueur. Means, this is going to hurt.
Rainiers, Golds, plump Royal Annes
are soaked in brine, bleached like bloodstained clothes
in calcium chloride and reeking sulfur dioxide
until their brightness leaches out and skins
are plasticized to snap between the teeth.
They steep in great vats of sweet dye,
red as Valentines and deadly toads,
swirling cold in a slow centrifuge
of sickly red.
And here’s the handsome man
who calls you sugar, calls you other things
when the lights are out, shaking a frosted bullet
of bourbon, vermouth, bitters, shattered ice.
He strains it into a cone-shaped glass that holds
a single maraschino, poison-bright.
It drowns in amber, bumps against the glass.
Yes, he expects you to eat it, even as
it settles like an excised lump preserved
for biopsy. He expects you to put on lipstick,
take the cherry whole into your mouth,
and work your tongue until you’ve tied the stem
into an impossible knot. Take your time.
He’ll watch you do it. He can wait all night,
even if it takes the whole damn jar.
“Maraschino” is from Honeymoon Palsy (Measure Press, 2017).