Juliana Gray


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).