pickle juice

Pickle Juice by

I think that I shall never see

A poem lovely as a tree.

No, that wasn’t the particular line Suze wanted. Rather, it was:

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest

Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast.

That was the line that made the sixth-grade class titter. Much like—

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow,

Gave a lustre of midday to objects below,

—every damn winter spent in the cedar-clogged hills of Northern Kentucky, which, actually, rarely saw much snow.

*****This damn winter, when Suze lay trapped, stark awake in bed—then when she’d dressed and escaped to the rural desert park with the noisy migrating geese before dawn, driven from her uncomfortably sweaty bed by hot perimenopausal insomnia—she thought about all their old elementary school poems and how they’d both been required to memorize them. First Suze’s anxious, imperfect recitations, and then her baby sister’s, Melanie’s, more confident, more cavalier, four years later. Now, after she’d rehearsed and rehashed all the required assignments—including the Preamble to the Constitution—in her addled head as she trudged the roughly paved paths to a soundtrack of outraged honks, Suze thought of how Melanie used to scarf all the dill pickles before she gulped the neon juice. How the doctor had said it was the electric, acidic brine that gave Melanie the bleeding gastric ulcer, no one knowing, until years later, about the stolen and hidden vodka.

*****The vodka, unbeknownst, had been tucked into the back of the underwear drawer in the tall dresser that had been handed down from the Swedish grandparents. The dresser front bowed, half of its metal pulls missing and much of its honeyed varnish worn away to paler bare patches. (Take from the dresser of deal, lacking the three glass knobs…but no, Suze hadn’t learned that one until Intro to Poetry in college.) Odorless, no one would’ve even known if the vodka spilled, absorbed as it would’ve been into the frayed and rainbowed days-of-the-week girls’ bikini briefs. Worn-elastic panties Melanie still washed and donned, even into her earliest teens. Stretched, secondhand training bras from Suze that wouldn’t yet fit Melanie’s poetically budding breasts.

*****In the barn, Suze accused: “Are you smoking…weed?”

*****And Melanie had retorted: “No way, that’s some dirty shit.”

*****So Suze demanded: “Then, what the fuck is wrong with you?”

*****Melanie just shrugged, pointed to her belly. The ulcer, she meant. Her guts, she meant. The guts it took to swipe the vodka from her friends’ parent’s liquor cabinets. The guts she had, even back then, when she was still too young to bleed from her organs. The guts it took to drink straight pickle juice, jar after jar taken from the fridge and slammed like secret shots in the dark.







Courtney Harler is an LGBTQIA+ freelance writer, editor, and educator based in Las Vegas, Nevada. She holds an MFA from University of Nevada, Reno at Lake Tahoe (2017) and an MA from Eastern Washington University (2013). Courtney is currently editor in chief of CRAFT, and has read and/or written for UNT Press’s Katherine Anne Porter Prize, The Masters Review, Funicular Magazine, Reflex Fiction, and Chicago Literati in recent years. She also hosts the literary podcast PWN’s Debut Review, as well as instructs and edits for Project Write Now. For her creative work, Courtney has been honored by fellowships and/or grants from Key West Literary Seminar, Writing By Writers, Community of Writers, Napa Valley Writers’ Conference, and Nevada Arts Council. Courtney’s work has been published in multiple genres in literary magazines around the world. Links to her publications and other related awards can be found at harlerliterary.llc. Find her on Instagram @CourtneyHarler or on Twitter @CourtneyHarler1.



Photo by Marina Grynykha on Unsplash





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