Elizabeth Oxley

Study Abroad: Chapter Two

Paolo undoes his trousers that winter,
while down in the Swiss piazza, vendors hawk 
roasted chestnuts and hot chocolate— 

sweet mortar to seal a cold stomach. Mine is pale 
beneath Paolo’s dark hand. At first, I say no, 
but Paolo hears yes, and I am too diplomatic to stop him. 

He wants what he wants, and I want to understand 
this country nobody talks to me about—long fields 
of skin, the lie of my legs when Paolo turns on his side 

on the bed. Two blocks away, the lake glistens 
and the cable car runs on stiff cables up and down 
Lugano’s steep cobbled streets. My thoughts race 

to the Alps—their dangerous peaks, saddles of snow 
I’d like to lie down in. When Paolo tumbles away, 
I gather my borders, feeling relieved and a little less foreign. 

Twice more that year, I take brief excursions 
onto a couch or narrow bed, practice raising my shirt, 
negotiate the lengths of a lover’s fingers and the strange 

mountain range of our staggered knees. I don’t yet feel 
free. I’m young and in love with the chestnuts 
still whole in their delicate skins.