Nervous Habit – by Keene Short


Without sharp fingernails
it takes longer to pull the sticker

from this apple. I never read the stickers,
except to see which country’s children

plucked the fruits of my lunch (their labor),
which orchard the elders broke their backs in

for honeycrisps or galas caught half-red embarrassed
from the branch. I take an inconsiderate bite

after working away the sticker,
pressing my thumb and forefinger into the flesh

to remove it, fixed like a tattoo on burned skin.
I dig my fingers in each time,

breaking flesh to get the sticker off
and feeling sticky apple juice on my hands,

crawling down my arm to my elbow. Every time,
I think, this will be the end

of my nail-biting habit, and every time,
stationed alone in the orchards of office space

surrounded by ifs, unknowns, I don’t knows,
ways to break a ladder and stumble down from the trees

like a disappointing child on the playground,
I still pick at my fingernails, first a tic, first playing

to fill that tiny gap between flesh and nail
with flesh or nail, almost as thin as the space

between apples and stickers, and I pull harder,
harder to fill the gap, heaving open the slab of sidewalk

on my finger to reveal unspoiled flesh
to the cool air. I dig into the flesh,

I dig into the flesh every time
I find myself in the orchard of my thoughts.




Keene Short is a graduate student in English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He grew up in Flagstaff, Arizona, where he attempted to give poetry readings for squirrels in the woods. His work has appeared in Burningword Literary Journal, Circa, The Tunnels, and elsewhere. He blogs at

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