after Alea Shurmantine
My professor explains there is no direct translation for “Home.”
The French, she says, just don’t have a word for it.
And I begin to understand why this language
has always felt so unsettled in my throat.
You always said that anyone speaking French
could make you swoon. You got lost in the romance of it,
said any language that produced Rimbaud and Flaubert
has to be the most beautiful. When you said je t’aime, I believed you.
Now, I study French. I don’t understand
any of it, and wonder why it sounds so vile
whenever I speak it aloud, why it sits
like a prayer that doesn’t fit in my mouth.
The things I can’t tell you could fill dictionaries;
I am learning that the French don’t have words
for the way I feel about you.
The French have words like l’appel du vide.
In English, it translates as the call of the void—
it describes the urge
to jump from high places.
The French have always understood
the allure of absence,
the way empty space begs to be filled;
there are 1000 miles between us.
I’ve heard l’appel du vide.
It sounds like your voice.
I have been hurling envelopes
at your absence for years now,
hoping I can build a bridge from my handwriting,
that if I say I love you enough times
it will somehow bring you closer;
Tonight, I am left alone and incomprehensible
in this lover’s language, trying to
say simple things in a more beautiful tongue
like I miss you.
like you are the stars,
and I am a lonely astronomer trapped in a city of lights,
every night I dream of you, I wake up drowning
your tongue is a prayer perfectly fitted to my mouth.
I want to tell you I miss the certainty of your body, how I always knew
exactly what it meant.
I want to tell you that every night, I dream of coming home,
but the French don’t have words for it.
There is a particular kind of terror
you will never know until 5 days
when the sunlight is scraping daggers
across your eyes and you realize
you are on the wrong side of the dawn,
so far away from your bed, again—
every insomniac knows how exhausting life is,
but I have always hated the idea
of missing it so I could lie comatose
and dream of the things
I could be doing.
I have nightmares of hourglasses,
and the cruelty of clocks
and everything I can’t hold in my hands.
At night, the city glows golden,
draws me in like a lover,
she laughs at the way I shake,
the way I can’t escape staying up for her.
Rest is a word I am trying to erase
from my vocabulary, a surrender
my brain won’t permit me.
Dawn breaks like bones,
jagged agony and clenched teeth—
I have never liked daylight
the way I love nights
(not wisely, but too well).
The moon is the first thief I ever learned to love—
she offers secondhand sunlight as a bandage,
soothing and familiar.
The morning is too bright,
lit like an interrogation room—
the whole world is fluorescent and threatening,
I am dragging my reluctant shadow
across sidewalks—I don’t know the difference
between dreaming and waking anymore,
(I do not know which is worse)
I only know days from nights.
in the daylight, the city
is all cracked knuckles and harsh lighting.
After the 3rd night, you stop
missing your bed. By the 5th,
you forget everything
but the too-fast thump of heartbeat,
your body running on caffeine and spite,
nicotine and panic.
Everything smells like adderall railed
off the sinks of library bathrooms—
after 120 hours,
the world is a nightmare.
When I finally collapse into my subconscious,
I promise myself I will not dream.
3 weeks after we succumbed to radio silence,
1200 miles away, I heard that you were with another boy
Who was nothing like me.
A friend of ours told me he looked like a koala,
That he laughed like a car crash
I don’t know why it bothered me so much.
And still, there are nights
When your phantom fingertips linger,
When the memory of your touch refuses
To surrender to the geometry of absence;
So lately, I’ve started compiling a running list
Of things I think of to avoid thinking of you
1) A koala uses an estimated 20% of its brain for digestion.
They are notoriously cruel—savagely stupid,
They’re neither actual bears nor particularly well equipped for survival,
Yet they continue to breed,
A cancer spreading across Australia.
This is what the boy you’re with looks like.
I am trying not to judge you for that.
But fuck, I’m thinking of you again. Never mind.
2) Cartography is the art of remaking the world a more manageable size,
Predictable and comforting—it reduces the Earth to destinations,
To the miles of roads that can take you anywhere but here.
On my worst nights, I used to chart escape routes
From my house to yours, imagine how
You would stand like a lighthouse guiding my shipwreck home.
Shit. Never mind.
3) In Greek Mythology, there’s a river in Hades
That grants the gift of forgetting—they call it Lethe.
And ever since I learned this, I’ve been trying to
Recreate the effect with whiskey;
It’s had mixed results.
4) Just because I’m a vegetarian doesn’t mean
I won’t punch a koala in the face—
They’re too adorable and need to be reminded
That life is pain. Fucking bullshit pseudo-bears. I’m starting to despise
Other marsupials by extension. They’re God’s mistakes. Accept it.
5) Mirages always look perfect when they’re out of reach—
Before you can touch them, they are so beautiful. I think
This is why it was so easy for me to fall in love from across
State lines—You were just another mirage
I was hoping to make an oasis.
But shit. Never mind.
6) Fucking shamanism…
I don’t know anything about it,
But it seems really cool.
7) I was always bad at holding you arm’s length
8) Seriously, fuck koalas.
9) It was a mistake to label this list—
Now everything that doesn’t remind me of you
Is starting to.
10) Fuck it. What’s the point?
Your echo lingers, your shadow taking up
Too much room in all of my mirrors.
The word “absence” is chiseled
Into the circles under my eyes—
I hate that you moved on faster than me,
That you distanced yourself from our train-wreck,
While I was still sifting through the wreckage
How you had labeled yourself survivor
While I could only call myself forgotten.
I hate that I was still cradling deep breaths
While you were falling in love with a stranger—
I hate this.
Almost as much as I hate fucking koalas.
The first kiss with the girl you want so badly to love
Feels like theft—at once familiar and distant,
It does not belong to you. Tongues grasping the way
Illiterate men reach for books.
Reverent, but unknowable,
It is lost in translation, the Tower of Babel
Built between you.
The second is static across television screens,
Rorschach tests and empty symbols,
You will find meaning in the pressure of
Her hand on your arm.
The third will make you an archaeologist,
Left to decipher the ruins hidden behind her smile,
Trying in vain to interpret the hieroglyphics
Of her scars.
The fourth is familiar,
Intimate as addiction, hungry
Like a relapse.
The fifth breaks like glass,
Dangerous and fragile.
The sixth is clockwork, interlaced
Lips, impermanent as sand
The seventh is goodbye.
Autumn came too early this year.
The leaves were falling
before September ended;
you always said they were a second spring,
thought they all looked like flowers:
I think you were quoting Camus.
I always thought they looked like suicides.
You asked why I was such a fucking existentialist,
called me morbid.
I am still trying to find this funny.
It took your sister three hours to find you
lying on the bathroom floor.
The tile stained with blood, painted like
a mosaic of all the ways we had failed you.
It was the only apology you left us with,
a reminder that we’ve all thought about it
before. You just followed through,
found out just what secrets your pulse was hiding.
I wish I could call that courageous.
I sat with her at your kitchen table,
smoking cigarettes in silence,
as the paramedics came and left,
pale ghosts haunting the hallway.
We lit candles when the sun went down,
spent hours staring, as if we could extract
some meaning from the flame’s flicker.
We were moths,
drawn to every unanswered question
your absence left us.
As the candles burned down
She drew whiskey from the pantry,
We drank from the bottle.
It was almost morning before we left the table.
The porch-light obscured the night sky,
We let our cigarettes pretend to be stars,
The empty pack between us
Where you should have been.
I threw the empty bottle at the street,
Wanted to watch something else break.
The remnants scattered across asphalt
Formed a constellation. We sat,
watching the sunrise reflected in broken glass.
I’m still trying to find this beautiful.
The night your father left,
I watched your family splinter
into a choir of birds.
Your brother became a sparrow,
darting from room to room.
The frantic in his eyes
searching for any superstition
that would bring his father back to him;
his sparrow-chirp echoed
from the dark corners.
Your mother sat,
throwing his things into boxes.
her hands, ravens
tearing at anything
he had left behind.
His name became a harsh caw
in her throat, as she ripped his memory
piece by piece from the nest
they had built.
You said that by the time you came home,
the floorboards seemed unfamiliar.
The walls were apologetic in his absence.
Your house, a collection of cobwebs,
things deemed worth leaving.
I parroted I’m sorry all night.
I couldn’t think of anything else to say.
We stayed up late,
talking about escape, listing every reason
you couldn’t wait to leave.
You were braiding feathers in your hair
when you said that you envied him.
I tried to stand rooted like a willow,
hoping you would build a new nest in my arms.
I didn’t ask you to stay.
I had never noticed before how much
you took after him—
your bones were hollow too.
The table is not wide enough
To put a comfortable space between us.
She sits, a little closer than I’d care for,
Her eyes searching for mine.
I watch her matchstick elbows splinter
With the echoes of her voice.
And I wonder why
I’ve always been drawn
To girls with arson in their smiles.
Why I always end up lying beside wildfires
And leaving before the ashes have settled.
Rewind 2 years; the third girl I never claimed to love
Shattered like glass when I
Did not respond to the funeral pyre fingers.
I had been working on my vanishing act,
She just didn’t see it coming.
Rewind 3 years; I used to think of love
As a process of unbreaking;
Imagined it as our bodies remaking ourselves holy,
I envisioned baptisms in sweat:
These days, I know better.
Now I know it’s just combustion.
I do not believe in “making love” anymore.
And most days it feels like my history with women
Is broken record spinning,
And I am watching the ashes fall,
Pretending they are snowflakes
Watching the ashes fall
Pretending they are snowflakes
And I just keep sk-sk-sk-skipping steps:
There is a reason
I have never said I love you to anyone
That I have ever shared a bed with,
Why I hold them like a fire escape;
My hands do not speak permanence—
They only know escapism,
I am always planning evacuation routes,
As I stand here, envying the intimacy of ashes
How flame holds kindling so much closer
Than my fingers ever learned how.
Rewind 5 years: I start smoking
So I’ll never forget her sparks,
Hoping I am a candle wick
And she is made of kerosene;
Our friends always told us that
We could make the most beautiful cinders.
Fast forward 3: She leaves me shaking in her ashes,
Wearing her soot like so many bruises
I do not like to show people
the ways I have been broken, so I hide the evidence
Beneath her embers.
I tell myself that heat is all I have to lose
As I chase every future apology who wears her smile.
Rewind 4 years; It is Halloween,
The jack-o-lanterns between us
Make promises to hide our shaking in their shadows;
My friends had already fallen in love with matchbooks
By the time I started playing with fire;
But your fingernails were flint,
Dragged across the tinder of my spine,
And we made enough sparks to scare the darkness away.
Fast forward 6 years: She is leaving me standing in her ashes
I am pretending they are snowflakes,
Playing with matches,
Hoping I’ll start another wildfire
I can share an empty bed with.
She’ll wear arson in her fingers;
And I’ll be praying that I am still a candlewick.
We could be the most beautiful cinders
In this city of ashes.
I was 4 years old when Kurt Cobain
Swallowed a shotgun shell
Instead of his pride:
13 when Elliott Smith carved a mineshaft to his heart,
Trying to excavate the treasures in his chest
15 when Hunter S. Thompson
Played Russian roulette with the ghosts in his head
And finally lost.
When I heard the news,
I would imagine them falling on repeat,
3 picture perfect comets
Blazing through an indifferent atmosphere;
I obsessed over the thought of
With the white light
At the end of the tunnel;
It was fascinating
How they could seal their legacies
With nails in a coffin:
I thought it was romantic.
How they burned in the face
Of an indifferent astrology
As if the pain was never too much to bear,
They just had to prove themselves fireworks;
To validate their lives with beautiful explosions.
I was 13 years old the first time
I tried to follow them.
Killed a bottle of Flintstones vitamins
Wrote a note that copied Elliott’s almost exactly;
“I’m so sorry
Nobody even noticed.
I won’t pretend I wasn’t disappointed.
2 years later marked
The first time I scrawled
My apologies across my wrists;
I didn’t want to die.
I just needed to know what secrets my pulse was hiding
So I carved a question mark into my veins.
Kurt, I imagined us blood brothers in my bathroom sink.
My arms bleeding tsunamis;
I was a stupid boy who didn’t know
That a razorblade didn’t have the firepower
To stop the tempest in my head.
I think that’s why you chose a shotgun shell
To exorcise your demons.
Too many of my friends
Joined me in your footsteps
With their wax-paper wings
Dreaming of ignition;
They bought razors
So they could greet the dawn
With a deeper shade of crimson—
We needed to prove
We could love life better from a distance
Promising that we could burn brighter
Than some too-stagnant Zodiac.
We swore we’d never be constellations,
We’d be shooting stars
Because we knew
Everything is beautiful when it burns.
We were overzealous arsonists.
With our headphones blaring the siren songs
That dragged us ashore
We prayed they’d bring us home;
Or at least they’d teach us to be fireworks.
I was one of the lucky ones;
The scars on my forearms read
“Here lies another would-be escape artist
Who could never find a way to make suicide stick,”
I don’t wish on shooting stars anymore
Because I’m sick of watching
All the luminous things
Turn to ashes before my eyes.
And every meteorite reminds me of the days chasing Icarus
Of searching for the sun on the inside of my wrist.
So when the comets come,
I find myself mourning
For every star that fell short and didn’t leave a note,
Found a pre-emptive cremation
And finally learned how to fall beautifully.
1) When you fall in love,
They will measure the trajectory and velocity,
Calculate just how quickly you collapse;
They will not be there to catch you.
You are just another gravitational experiment to them,
And it would be bad science to intervene.
2) Any physicist will tell you
That people never truly touch:
This means that when you kiss,
They are only feeling the empty air between you;
This makes loving them
Just a different kind of loneliness.
They’ll say that to get too close would be catastrophic,
Explain that even the universe
Is trying to keep you at a distance.
They’ll dismiss every sensation
As just the magnetism in your skin repelling;
On the sub-atomic level, you are repulsive to them.
3) Physics teaches that matter
Is mostly comprised of the empty space
To them, you are just the sum of your nothingness;
You will never feel so hollow
As when you lay beside a physicist
In a bed that you are apparently not quite touching.
4) Entropy means that your affection is not sustainable.
Devotion is not a perpetual motion machine—
And they will calculate
Just how much of your energy
Gets lost in the transfer;
This means they’ll know exactly how fast
You are falling out of love.
They will say it’s inevitable.
When you do not leave,
Long after you have stopped caring for them,
They will attribute it to inertia.
5) They will make your relationship
a large hadron collider.
To them, you are just a future supernova;
And they are one fight away
From recreating the big bang in your body.
They do not care
Who will be caught in your crossfire.
To a physicist, you are just
Another experiment in combustion.
Remember that to them,
An explosion is just the beginning;
And they can’t wait to see
What sort of life will rise from your remnants.
my mother tells me that
I look like you.
She says I talk like you,
and, most importantly,
I smoke and drink like you.
I sorta have to believe her,
because you and I
will never get the chance to meet:
too many fires in your lungs
left you breathless
before I could breathe.
Whenever my mother tells me I remind her of you,
it’s always implied that I’ll self-destruct too;
that I too, will end up
wearing a hospital gown like a funeral suit,
praying to whatever superstition
will still take me,
because you and I both know that
there are no atheists in a hospital bed.
I’ve known too many friends
who’ve spent their lives searching
for their white powder saviors
to think that I couldn’t easily be one of them,
and that scares me, Jack.
Because I know that there are no diseases crueler
than the ones we self-inflict,
but I still find myself thirsty.
You and I both know
that an alcoholic is always drowning,
but I don’t know if I could stop
the inertia of the bottle if I tried,
so I don’t try.
Even though I know I spend too much of my life
looking at the world through the bottoms of bottles
like I’m trying to make them into kaleidoscopes,
trying to paint the world a different kind of beautiful
(just a little more euphoric this time.)
Jack, my mother always talks about
the way you drove your car
like you were trying to crash it,
just to prove that the machinery
would break before you did.
Did you feel the same way about the respirator?
I think you did.
I think that’s why you insisted
they take you off oxygen
so you could smoke more cigarettes,
just a fuck you
to the clockwork that was holding you back
from a death as miserable as your life.
Jack, I know how you always loved to play Prometheus,
trying to steal your damnation back
from whatever deity was too cowardly
to pull the fucking trigger already;
I felt the same way at age 12;
the first time I sparked a cigarette.
Lately I’ve been wondering whether
it’s still a suicide
if it’s in slow motion,
and your memory, it’s not as definitive
as it used to be.
So Jack, even though we’re strangers
who just happen to share a bloodline,
my mother keeps telling me that
I’m more your reflection than the mirror was:
we’ve always been a little more than kin,
but I‘m still praying that we’re less than kind.
And I swear, if my grandson ever asks me
what it means to be an addict,
I’ll have a better answer
than a tombstone.
She'll smell like summer.
And you, you'll smell like smoke
you filthy bastard, but that doesn't matter,
because she smokes too—she just
magically smells like summer when she does,
and you’ll know.
It’s in the way that her hands grasp at yours,
how she is soft in all the ways
you never imagined another human being could be,
how she feels luminous and lonely,
the way the stars must feel to the Earth—
trust me, you'll know.
There will be nights in her arms where
you'll find yourself wondering if
you could slit the wrists of time,
just to stay with her that much longer,
knowing that you would put a bullet
in the face of every clock
if it would make a goddamn difference,
you'd stop the Earth's rotation if you could.
But, you can’t.
So instead, you'll hold her,
and spin counter-clockwise,
trying to fight the inertia of orbits,
certain that every infinitely small
fraction of a second you'll gain
will make all the dizziness worthwhile.
You could never imagine regretting it.
When you kiss, you will learn how the soil loves the rain
by the way she feels so necessary against you.
You will spend hours, tracing her with your fingertips
as though she were a bible composed entirely in Braille, begging you to read.
Just trust me, you’ll know.
And when it ends, you’ll be left trying
to reconstruct her hands
from everything she ever gave you.
You'll try to trace her voice in ink,
knowing it's impossible,
but still praying there's a way you can hold
her in a metaphor, certain that
if you could, you would never stop writing her.
And you'll find rebounds,
because it turns out a lot of us are lonely like the stars,
but you’ll still kiss,
feeling every inch of her absence
in the way your bodies don't quite fit together,
a new distance between your bones
whenever you laugh too hard at another girl’s jokes.
And when you finally see her again
you will hurt in ways you never imagined possible,
but you will remember how
you held eternity in your hands when
she lay under your palms.
How after a lifetime of uncertainty,
she was the first thing that made sense
and you’ll say to yourself
“Goddamn. She was worth it.”
Somebody told me once that Jude is the patron saint of lost causes,
And when the stars start shining themselves a brighter shade of hopeless,
I wonder; does he sees what I do?
Does he see the children, who think their hearts
Make them less man than abomination with every beat,
Like their bloodstream speaks monstrosity too fluently
For them to ever really feel human
I wonder if he’s seen the kids who name themselves Lazarus in thunderstorms,
Like they can be reborn in raindrops,
Learn how to hold themselves holy without any stained-glass saviors.
The ones who keep Icarus dreams locked behind a chain-link ribcage,
Hoping someday they'll learn how to speak the language of reaching,
And so in their veins they’ll try to paint the sky without the sun,
So they can’t ever fly too close to it.
But they end up painting portraits of addiction with hypodermic brushes.
I'm beneath a streetlight shaped like a sunrise,
Watching a boy who’s trying to spin himself into a sundial
So he’ll never know what permanence feels like.
He’s curled up on a concrete cradle, talking to a girl who keeps saying her skeleton is a tomb that she’s stuck in,
And she just wants to be dust,
To be a part of everything and nothingness at once,
I watch her sculpt saviors in her cigarette smoke,
Begging them to hold her holistic beneath fugitive skylines.
They’re not old enough to drink yet,
But they’re already afraid of growing too old to die young.
I watch these children fight,
With echoes of holy wars in their voices,
Too young to be promising to write each other’s eulogies.
They hold their hearts heavy like hand grenades,
And love pins pulled,
Speaking explosion with firecracker tongues.
But there are questions scarred stagnant on the inside of every eyelid.
And everyone wonders, who will still be here in a year?
Where are we going? Why are we racing there?
Everybody knows that there are no children here,
Just dragonfly eyes and gargoyle smiles,
Thunder-throats and firework fists,
Sundial-hearts and gunpowder voices.
Boys and girls who learned that their lives
Are some of the greatest tragedies never written,
And so every fight sounds like a hymn,
Like their eyes are crying for help
as their hands speak jihad with every broken promise.
There are no children here,
Just the lost and the lonely,
The forgotten but not forgiven.
These summer night hearts trapped in icicle lives,
Girls who speak winter and boys who speak dragonfly,
They’re all looking for redemption,
But they’d settle for faith.
So Jude, if you see this too, I wonder if you can help them,
Are you even doing your fucking job, Jude?
I know that there may be too many of us lost causes for you to help us all,
But every not-child here is begging you for an answer.
So Jude, hope of the hopeless, please, pray for us
Like I do.
I'm trying to forget you haiku (parts 1 & 2)
In Greek myths, Lethe,
A river in Hades grants
When I learned this, I
learned how to recreate the
effect with whisky.
I miss you so much haiku #37
Portraits in charcoal
remind me that we're ashes
And dust. Just remnants.
Sign language haiku
A deaf boy, shouts his
Poems at the top of his fingertips.
The skyscrapers listen.
First love haiku
For those summer days,
We loved like dandelions.
Tenacious as weeds.
She’s not the kind of girl you ever see in the daylight,
This silhouette on my doorstep,
This insatiate illusion,
With her cold hands shaking,
And I pull her in.
And she pulls me in.
See, the thing about love is that it’s always stronger past tense,
And I’m just the right kind of masochist
Who’s a little too willing to play Lazarus with his emotions.
We try to teach each other how to resurrect,
Because she, she kisses like Jesus
And we both have a thing for fucking exes,
For teaching our bodies what it means to raise the dead.
Don’t call this unhealthy regression:
Call it necromancy.
This isn’t a relapse,
We’re reborn inside of each other.
And I’m conflicted,
Because I’ve never liked what’s good for me,
But I like her.
She’s just my kind of chaotic,
This girl who makes broken beautiful,
Who looks like she should be named “Collision,”
She kisses with the audacity of an insomniac,
Like we’re more than just tonight,
More than just not-quite platonic former lovers.
She’s got a knack for carving constellations on my skin,
In the shape of Damascus,
Of empires rising and falling,
So I can wear our history in scratches:
Carrying our weight like a masochistic Atlas.
We’ve never really mastered apologies,
So we don’t talk about how it ended.
But when she visits, I try to map the translations,
Watch the vernacular shift from love to lust,
As “hold me” becomes “fuck me”,
“you’re beautiful” becomes “cowgirl”,
“I love you” becomes “harder”, becomes “faster”
And holding hands becomes holding her head down.
We take turns objectifying each other,
pretending that we are just these bodies
interlaced for an hour or two
There is no emotion here.
We're just kids who always loved to play Doctor,
Especially Doctor Frankenstein
See, we’re alchemists,
With the audacity to turn her touches to gold
Before they decompose to dust.
We don’t walk through the valley with the shadow of death,
But we do have a thing for fucking there,
Laying, legs intertwined, trying to un-shatter ourselves human again,
But when the morning comes,
Our midnight revivals turn back to ashes,
And she becomes just a scent on my sheets.
See, the thing about Lazarus is,
He just died again.
And after a night of playing necromancer,
I’m starting to realize.
That some things that were better off dead
He tells me that
Sobriety makes him feel tawdry.
I laugh. But he’s not joking.
He doesn’t feel tawdry anymore.
You can see his relapse
In the way he won’t make eye contact.
In how he holds his coffee
Tenderly, like alcoholics hold their whiskey:
Like he holds whiskey.
Like he holds cocaine.
Like he holds his wife.
His eyes seem a little less green lately,
Less fertile, more empty.
Like ashes and dust.
He sits across from me
Looking like the patron saint of lost causes,
And I forget how to pray.
I know how he wants to be some kind of beautiful catastrophe,
And all I can think is that addiction isn’t a language I speak
At least, not the way he does.
He tells me how he almost died last night,
His heart almost stopped beating;
He’s too calm about all this.
I see him and think mythology,
I see the white powder Caesar saying
Veni Vidi Vici.
It’s just something in his hush that makes me think of falling,
He says he’s just trying to be human again.
But looking in those eyes,
I wonder if he remembers what that means.
Your mother kept a player piano in the dining room,
So you could pretend to play
And guests could bear witness to this
12-year-old not-quite prodigy
Who played like an Old West saloon.
I was wrong about sincerity, then.
I thought it meant just pretending not to know the secret,
But you told me that
Even a player piano had to miss the touch of fingertips.
I remember the day you chased me across traffic,
Into back alleys,
The day I became the 12-year-old matchbook
That you lit your first cigarettes with,
The day we found ourselves
At the opposite ends of bottles spinning,
Sharing our first kisses like secrets.
We fell into each other like pre-collision raindrops,
Like our bodies were just magnets attracting.
Staying up late, searching
For the man in the moon,
I always wondered if he saw the man in me.
I could say that we drifted apart
because I was starting to see too much of myself in you,
That I didn’t want to make you into another 17-year-old martyr,
That I was trying to prepare us to fight distance,
But you pulled me in like smoke signals,
And I was just a boy who loved to play with fire.
I knew you had a boyfriend,
But I fell into you again.
I could say, that when I saw the bruises,
Left by this ashtray of a man,
I imagined myself cracking the window of his ribcage,
Like his blood on my fists would feel like justice,
You could say that you left Colorado
For both of us,
That you could feel the magnets in our blood repelling.
But if my life has been a series of inadequacies, at least I know
That player piano’s aren’t the only ones
Who will remember your secrets.
When you told me you were leaving,
I fell in love with you all over again.
They found a nightlight,
Plugged into your wall.
We never knew
That you were afraid of the dark.
It threw shadows across your room
That children would see monsters in.
We couldn’t help but wonder
what demons you saw in silhouette.
They said the walls seemed
A little less sturdy that day,
The ceiling, a little lower.
Vanessa quit smoking,
Because now cigarettes remind her
Ryan kept looking for your note,
Imagining a sign, written in thick black ink
Until he found it,
In the back of an old sketchbook.
It was written in pencil,
And didn’t answer any questions.
Tom stopped making eye contact,
Said he’s been seeing everything a little darker lately.
He bought a nightlight yesterday.
Your mother took all your drawings
Off the refrigerator,
Threw them into boxes like coffins,
Her hands seemed to age faster than the rest of her:
Every day they looked a little more like tombstones
With past-tense death dates.
Your father smashed his fists through the bathroom mirror,
As though the bandages could hold back his grief.
He became the kind of man you see from a distance.
Neither one of them cried at your funeral.
Neither did we.
The pews filled up with faces hewn from marble,
As a man who never knew you gave your eulogy,
In a church that you had never prayed in.
Everyone mouthed the hymns,
Because it seemed disrespectful to sing.
We all stared, stoically,
At that face in the casket.
It wasn’t quite your face.
I’d never seen you in a suit before.
And we sat, trying to imagine ourselves
Carved from marble,
from cedar, from oak,
As if someone could chisel us unfeeling.
And outside, as Vanessa smoked her last cigarette,
We all whispered our atheist’s prayers
Until our hands were shaking like our voices.
They sounded so hollow:
There's only so much you can say in a whisper.