Plain China

Nail Polish

by Wyatt McMurry · Eckerd College · Poetry Prize Winner
Afterparty 2, Mandi Vivacqua · Susquehanna University

His nails weren’t coral but candy

cane red cadillac and dark—satin

lining of my mother’s purse, brains

of a crushed watermelon or even

the latex guts splashed over the rocks

in Tremors after Kevin Bacon tricks

the worm monster into falling off a

cliff. I’d never seen a boy with nails

like that so I went home and raided

my mother’s dressing table, wiped

swatches on computer paper shade by

shade to find out which one I liked.

Nail polish inflated dizzy in my forehead.

My sister sat me down on the bathroom

tile and painted sangria sunrise onto my

fingers and toes—each coat cold to the quick.

Came back to school next day swaggering

like a thick-thighed cowboy just come from

looting the injun he’d killed, my hands fanned

cactus blossoms. For days my mother’s

house shook with laughter until my father

saw me zooming up and down the stairs, my toes

searing holes in the carpet. His murmurings went

up like heat-stirred air from concrete—hardly

noticed until the smell of acetone rose in the kitchen

and they called me in and sat me down. She

took up my hands and feet in her hands and with

dipped cotton swabs erased clean the polish nail by

nail, my father looming. Decades later I am still

searching for that savage red they rooted out of me.

About the Author

Wyatt McMurry · Eckerd College

Wyatt McMurry is a junior majoring in literature and creative writing. At his home in Louisville, Kentucky, he has six cats, three dogs, and two horses. 

About the Artist

Mandi Vivacqua · Susquehanna University

Originally from Frackville, Pennsylvania, Mandi Vivacqua is an English and studio art major who enjoys writing, music, and art. After graduation, she hopes to work for a music-based magazine doing photography work. Afterparty 2 is a companion piece to her photo published in RiverCraft.