“Not the Insouciant European I Pretend to Be” by Heather Frese

Gazing at the Caribbean over the tip of my nipple  
is a study in nonchalance.

I close my left eye, line up the right side.  
Freckle. Nipple. Toe. Sea.  
Nippletoesea. No freckle.

The men here eye my hips. 
Fuerte, finger grazing 
the swell of my outer thigh,  
gaze barely skimming
my cleavage.

Still, as I sway in this water
smelling of pineapple and salt,
as I spin and my breasts follow, straining
against the waves, I imagine 
the beach-strolling, dome-capped 
policeman in white 
blowing his whistle, flagging
me out, covering me up. 

In the Atlantic, when my cousin and I skinny-dipped, 
one of us would tread water 
and hold bathing suits
as the other swam.

Here, the beach policeman just walks by as I 
bare my breasts in the shade, 
on a day full of clouds in rounds that roll and puff 
while waves plop heavily, lazily, drowsy 
from carrying hole-boned coral.

From above, this place must look scattered 
with breasts – bowl-cut huts, frothy palms,
spheres of fronds under which women 
shade-bathe topless.
Even the pretend lighthouse 
(that’s really a bar) wears a plump
round sunhat.

In the Carribbean, the breeze brushes                     
my breasts                                                                
as I once again stride into the sea.                                            
Black suit bottom slick like a seal. 
Strong hips.                         

The sunlight globes 
inside of me.  
If it were dark, 
I could use my breasts 
as flashlights.

Heather Frese is the author of The Baddest Girl on the Planet, winner of the Lee Smith Novel Prize. She has published numerous short stories, essays, and the occasional poem. Her work has appeared in Michigan Quarterly Review, the Los Angeles Review, Front Porch, the Barely South Review, Switchback, and elsewhere, earning notable mention in the Pushcart Prize Anthology and Best American Essays. A native Ohioan, she currently writes, edits, and wrangles three small children in Raleigh, North Carolina. Follow her on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter: @Heatherkfrese.