The Tulips (The Cervix)

Carey Salerno

Before I even saw their perfect heads, the violent reds piercing, the petals together screwed 

tightly in the dawn light as the sun tried to rouse us from our beds for another day of work, 


before I could even change from my pajamas, my sleep bra, throw my wildly tangled hair 

in a tie and walk outside, they’d all been disappeared by the deer, having caught 


sight of their bright spotlights, beckoning them to slip their pearl-ringed muzzles beneath 

the silk dress of night as they strutted the sidewalk, stumbling over each other 


and into my front yard. No one was driving by and not even the dog barked when they crept

nearer to the window, bent their snouts beneath the thorns of the rose bush and ravaged 


the ruddy blooms. I wonder what they tasted like or even if the deer desire them the way I

desired them, longing just to see them radiant and bobbing in the spring, made a little manic 


by the pollen dust that swathed everything in its radioactive yellow. And too, I wanted to kneel 

beside them and wonder into their cores, my whole face where only the fat bumblebees had 


once rested, drunk on nectar, drunk on the taste of fleshy tulips in springtime. I wanted what I

wanted but what the deer got to first. Like on the operating table, after slicing into my 


abdomen, after the frozen sections came back negative, the surgeon reluctantly followed 

my orders, taking only what had to be taken, in order to spare me my cervix. We’d reviewed 


a list of options together the night before, having a sort of three-way with his girlfriend who

was booking a cruise for them, we were all on speaker, I on the other line telling him 


that I wasn’t willing to give up my orgasm if I didn’t have to, and when we were finished giving

our reasons, he said the same thing to both of us at the same time: whatever you want, 


just book it. I was so impressed by his multi-tasking (I listened patiently as he read out his credit

card number, expiration date, cvv code), and even by how he treated our desires more 


like ambitions than inevitabilities, like the way I feel about the tulips once I spy them beginning

to swell, knowing I’ll never see their flushed double ruby cups unfurl, the deer so 


much like destiny returning to my doorstep, the way they are always hungry to devour things

down, to take what they want and make no apology. But a girl can dream! And after the 


surgeon followed our best-case scenario and left me with as much as he could leave me with

given the tangled field of wildflowers he’d found inside, having pulled everything rotten 


right through the midriff hole we decided we’d make, he used glue to seal my stomach back

together, to force the threads of my muscles into recoupling. I think they’re still working it out. 


The scar fading. The wound beneath still tender. I might always be tender. And it lets me know

it’s there–my decision, my desire, which sometimes feels silly and selfish and meaningless, 


especially when after a long morning run having pushed myself a little too hard, the severed

muscles clench like they’re wringing out the rag of me, twisting me into the ground, down next 


to the empty tulip stems erupted, their two dejected leaves flopped against the black mulch on

either side, their soft juicy green smooth and striated, where I say out loud to them that 


I chose this, as if they care, and also that I chose to sleep through the cold spring night when the

deer came to my door and smashed their faces greedily into all the terracotta pots, 


their hooves clicking on the concrete, tongues licking the insides of the cans collecting rain, 

the way the cervix might receive forgiveness for its crime of wanting to remain, 


for trying to rouse me in the night to watch the rangale in the act, or to save the tulips 

the way I saved the measure of me I knew I’d always want later, if there was a later. 


I’d always want later, wouldn’t I? Even if later is only next spring or just 

the next after next. Like the tulips–perennial. For however long it was, I’d want that.


Headshot: Carey Salerno


CAREY SALERNO is the executive director and publisher of Alice James Books. She is the author of Shelter (2009) and Tributary (2021). She serves as the co-chair for LitNet: The Literary Network and teaches publishing arts for the University of Maine at Farmington. In 2021, she received the Golden Colophon Award for Independent Paradigm Publishing from CLMP for the leadership and contributions of Alice James Books. “The Tulips (The Cervix)” is a 2023 Pushcart Prize Nomination.