Prameela Kottapalli

A Tragedy of Skin


Earth before the morning rain.

Red is a tragedy,
apples that never soften my cheeks,
cherries that never brighten my lips.
But blue is a holy river,
a tapestry spun by my great-grandmother,
the sky away from the city.

Flame-tongued lamps and kohl-lined eyes,
four-armed-gods with burnished knives.
Fire-kissed altars, incense and smoke–
the heady white breath of lingering ghosts.

Faceless deities, ancient names–
women in the sky.
The darkest corners of the world are also the oldest,
the most sacred.

Pin-up models and poster queens,
pale-faced angels in magazines.
Blood-lipped, narrow-hipped, lovely white lies–
have they met the women in the sky?

But maybe the sky has no women,
and maybe there are no ancient names– only old ones.
Maybe there is just this–
my burnt-brass eyes and barrel boned hips.
Not molded from wet brown clay,
the rib of a four-armed goddess.
Not whispered to life by my mother’s prayers.

Even the darkest corners cannot escape
the razor-blade glare of the stars.

I strip the color from my body–
the blue dress from my back.
I wash the ink from my hair,
thread my braids into silk.

I tie my now-smooth hair back with a red ribbon.

The mirror holds the coldest truths–
          there is no such thing as a dark angel.

Nature is not impressed.
My hair curls at the ends,
darkness dots my roots.

What are the women in the sky thinking
as they look down upon this tragedy?

Some things I cannot change:
the burnt-brass eyes and barrel-boned hips
of my mother
and her mother
and every blue-robed, brown-skinned woman with ink-black braids.

Maybe the angels are just dolls.
The poster queen is foreign to me
before she returns to her magazine.
I wrap the red around my finger,
the blue around my shoulders,
and step out to meet the night.


Year 10

Spring. The beginning of the end. Pale fire–
the first thing you saw
when you woke up.
You didn’t want
to wake up.

No one
of being awake.

I was there to breathe in your smoke.
To wrinkle my nose and ask no questions when you staggered
into the passenger seat of my car
smelling of musty corners and
discount cologne and
strangers’ rooms.

I’d never been much of a talker, you much of a listener.
But that was us–
the river and her quiet current.

Midnight rides. Slate-dark sky.
My eyes on the road,
tendrils of smoke trailing your blue veined-fingers,
riding the wind.

Here, in girl world, we speak in
false truths and whispered promises.
A passing breeze when the sun is out,
stifling heat under speckled skies.
The angles of your face awash
in the moon’s harsh white shadow,
your tears staining paper-thin sheets,
your nails sharp against my skin–
rosy red crescents. Soulless smiles.

A summer passed in solitude
and smoke
and strangers.

Your skin stretched taut
over crumbling-plaster bones, wilting shadows
under milky, red-rimmed eyes.

Cigarette ash–
the remnants of angel wings
when they touch the sun.

They talked, and you said you didn’t mind.
          Just another false truth.

Honey-hued skies and dancing leaves–
your favorite season.
It was the Fall of us.
Your nails digging into my arm–
this time, the smiles didn’t fade.
Middle of the night, cold cold metal, Whiplash.
The wind was barely there
when you opened the door
and stumbled onto the road.
With not even the moon out
to harden the slant of your chin
and the slope of your cheeks–
a thing of shadows.

Broken glass swept under the seats. Empty.

Winter blankets the world in smoke,
adorns it with dancing droplets.
Your storm-sky eyes are blurs in my memory,
foggy, red-rimmed grey smudges--
I used to think they were blue.

without you
to give it

Empty boxes, crumpled wrappers.
I keep the windows closed,
just so the heavy breath of your cigarettes won’t follow you out.

No grey glances,
no downturned heads, no silent encounters. Spring is coming.

So I hold my breath
until the morning breeze brings you home.

No smoke, no shadows, no strangers.

Spring is ending.

You look at me now–
look at me–
for the first time since that night.
I see you ease open the window
and peer into the dark:
days of speckled skies,
of tear-stained sheets,
of false truths and whispered promises.

I’ve never been much of a talker.

You close the window– and, as always,
I don’t stop you.
A smile touches your eyes–
as they’ve always been,
the color of dreams–
I raise my heavy hand
for one real goodbye.

are both


About the author: Prameela Kottapalli, 17, lives in Northern California. While she's still a junior in high school, she looks forward to studying the humanities in college and embarking on great adventures. Everything she's ever enjoyed in life has stemmed from her love of storytelling. She has previously been published in her high school literary magazine. Note: See her work in the Creative Non-Fiction section of issue two as well.