What the Poisoner Said

I speak of red water and black orchids, wear my dresses long so I might fasten glass bottles to my garters. He adjusts the shoulders of my dress. I offer him a gunpowder smile, my gloved hands slick with oleander. Perhaps he will smoke the cigar I soaked in formaldehyde, eat an omelet studded with dark mushrooms. When he tries to undo my stockings, he will hallucinate pennies and oranges, believe me a fairy who has confined him to an oak tree. There are copperheads squirming in my gut, he says. Do you have an aspirin? We walk across the meadow and I confess to keeping arsenic in a hollow ring, to applying milkweed to his letter openers, his forks, the pipe he smokes on Sundays. He calls me starling, witch. When the convulsions start, he seems unsettled. His fingers grip my skirt; his body curls among the nettles. His bent spine, a question.