The History of Kisses

by Jacalyn Shelley

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The Moon’s milk spoons over men and women, some entangled under brambleberry bushes, some supine on golden Egyptian sheets. Around your mouth, a fine lace of wrinkles, the traces of gladness. Before you spindle off into an inky sleep, this is the time of the good night kiss. These are dark hours for me to write,

claw back the curvature of time to the moment my teenage grandfather thought I like the look of her, smelled her brown hair, and when she made no objection, the ripple they created was heard only by the earth’s ear, the sound of a bird chirping. Later, she nestled my father in a wicker basket, pinned the tag Milton to his blanket, and left him on his grandparents’ oak table. Holding the door with her fingers, she softened its blow.


Dressed in extravagant robes, lovers bend together as if they are sound waves of music. They kneel in the fragrant meadow of violets, sundrops, and larkspur in Klimt’s The Kiss. His hands hold the sweet bones of her head as the ridge of his brow, his blunt cheekbone press against her impassive face, her eyelids closed in a gold leaf dream.

Perhaps not unlike my maternal grandmother, who wanted to believe if she could play the piano at Carnegie Hall, my grandfather would crave her splayed fingers caressing the bones of his spine. But her hair wasn’t flaxen, her cheekbones too high, and he, with an unanchored heart, moved between his second wife and her, his part-time home. Until, he died. Then, she banged Rhapsody in Blue on her upright piano, vowed not to tell their young children she was his mistress.


In the first photograph of my parents, my father’s right arm braces my mother, his student, as she stands on ice skates. His head leans towards her and he smiles, but at eighteen her gaze is off-camera. She knows a kiss could ruin a life.

For them, a rice shower, a tiara of white roses in her chestnut hair. He takes her hand; holds open the door of his black Chevrolet coupe. What a comfort he must have been to her on that first night, after she discovered her parents never married, his parents too. Their bodies fused together as if carved from a block of cream-colored limestone, their arms and hands almost flattened to fit around each other, strands of their hair united into a single arc of time that stretches taut — the exquisite and the undeserved moments—

relaxes back into the mousy brown tendrils of my hair that you love. Time for me to slide under the soft flap of sheet, inhale the scent I love when you’re wearing nothing else, how you touch the tip of my spine, how I lean in to kiss your marmalade mouth. 


end of story

© 2021, Jacalyn Shelley Also by Jacalyn Shelley