“Tristesse” by Elizabeth Johnston Ambrose

Elizabeth Johnston Ambrose


Crying after sex isn’t sexy. She tried not to do it, pressed her face to her pillow
so they wouldn’t see. But it happened. Every. Damned. Time.
She wondered if each went home, told his roommates about the girl at the club:
thigh-high boots, leather skirt, how she pulled him out to the dance floor, sweat
slick, or slipped her arm through his, led him to the bar, practically drank him
under the table, how at last call she reached into his pocket, found his cigarettes,
his keys, asked: Where’s your car? At her place, like something out of a porno,
how she pushed him onto the bed, climbed on top, began bucking and moaning
so loud her roommate banged on the door, yelled for her to shut the fuck up,
but she just threw her head back, howling like something hungry and loosed.
Then, after all that show, burst into tears.
The less experienced ones tried to comfort her, awkwardly patted her arm
while reaching for their pants; the others just made for the door.
Later, after she was married, she would hear Oprah call this postcoital tristesse.
Post-sex blues. Like a Crayola shade. Like a Sherwin-Williams palette.
But if she was a color,
it was the ring of scum in a draining
sink, the smudge of an overzealous eraser,
water in a vase of rotting stems, the hungry
pit of a disinterested yawn, of skin snagged
in a zipper, the smear of moths
dragged across a windshield,
the color of a gate shutting,
a psalm book, closing.

from Imago, Dei
2021 Rattle Chapbook Prize Winner


Elizabeth Johnston Ambrose: “I grew up in the Church, and by that I mean in a fundamentalist, evangelical home where we spent Sunday dinners debating things like the meaning of the Greek word ‘Baptismo,’ whether it meant you had to be fully immersed or whether a sprinkling was sufficient to keep you from the gates of hell. Because Jesus was ‘the word,’ and because I spent so much of my youth analyzing the ‘good word,’ it’s fitting that I wound up pursuing a degree in English and becoming a writer. Ironically, the close-reading skills the church taught me was what ultimately undid my faith. Thank God.​” (web)

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