later in the kitchen we will compare –
around here they call them kisses,
bracelet full of bruises
creeps up your arm and becomes a flowerbed.
the nurses all have soft voices, they claim
they do not want to hurt you. but they are too quick,
too quick to bury the hatchet in my veins and
spill sugar inside.
my parents will come by, maybe,
make disapproving sounds and sigh.
make accusations by omission. we will probably
not speak, except that I will say I am tired
which is true. it is hard to sleep, when my screams
so easily become someone else’s, a chorus
of ghosts shrieking through the walls, all knowing
the same thing: once you let them tie you down,
feed you warmth, you are bound once again to this earth.
cold drink perspiring, your
hands suddenly clammy,
granite, you order another
float or maybe a milkshake
and a slick hamburger on
a checkered napkin. your
memories don’t fit through
the opening of the straw.
this poem is pressed
by the sun like a kiss to
the crook of your arm.
later, when you are
binding envelopes with twine,
signing in sea salt,
in empty soda bottles,
think of this first love.
take the bones
they’re built around
and pull them down.
the flesh drips off them
like wax while their bodies rise.
their mouths are red
in the half-light and silent.
this place itself is whispering,
it is hungry,
it feeds on feeding
and longs for longing.
its spaces are not vaulted,
but arched – you are certain
this is not a holy place.
but still you have come to watch
the poems as they fall
and pool under their skin,
the poems that are whispered
in bright colored voices
while the lights dim.
this is not what god intended
for the world, but still you have come
to watch and whisper while the poison
of pure longing falls from your body,
less an ecstasy than an obligation of these flickering nights
and the specters floating between them
obscuring the miracle of daybreak.
“it was her wrists. they were beautiful.”
- valerie page, v for vendetta
soft underbelly of a fish, full of flesh,
is the spot where veins peel off and breed,
is the spot where she hides wrinkles in old leather
under the scents of lavender and libraries.
nobody falls in love with that anyway,
soft skin showing all its scars.
you see what you want in the bone,
fish-ribs forming a pit in your stomach,
twisting it like a cherry stem you prove your worth,
while she gives her wrist a flick and brings you in.
your eyes open wide, you stare at that spot,
fly-fishing lure on a line, holding you steady,
hiding the rot that builds underneath.
sits on her lip like a flower
makes you mutter to yourself
too many kisses falling into her
open mouth, too many sun-drenched frolics,
too many late nights
distracts you from the capillaries
popping in her eyes and the way they water,
spots of heat staining her cheeks.
while it grows over into pus-dredged weeds,
the mold on her breath talks for her.
having decided that your duty is to bring music
and a little bit of danger to the lifeless streets
of suburbia, you draw yourself up as a rebel with a cause,
hold your arms out like the spirals of the milky way,
sending the glowing children congregating around you
into a feverish whirl, because space is curved
and so are the suburbs you traversed across to bring them here,
winding through hills and streets to conduct
this sermon on a mount, so even the things that
appear to move straight are really spinning around.
you have stolen your father’s turntable,
and his old records, and his oversized coat,
and while the sunset begins to stain things
in a golden light, you put the needle
on the vinyl and open old wounds
while the only voice you have ever loved
claws its way out of the box and into
the grooves of the sky, making the stars
scratch and whir, and time instead
settles into the beats, breaks its lineage,
and begins to, like everything, spin.
mold spores sleep
in the blood of a girl
three floors and
a wing away, leaching
poison into her bones.
they will cut them out
in pieces, shine light
through them like
ice cores, and still
she will die. until then,
she is beautiful.
we look more or less
alike, shadows splitting
the spaces where ribs
should be. girls wrapped
in red stripes visit her,
reading poems, leaving
trinkets. I haven’t had
a visitor in weeks, and
probably won’t again.
across the hospital,
they send me dirty looks,
cursing the unfairness of
it all – she is beautiful and
she will die, I am ugly and
they might be able to save me.
you chew on coffee beans to cleanse your mouth of this
one long silence
it is open like a wound
when your breath condenses in the cold air you feel its presence
with icy hands it holds yours
it is patient
it is strict
chewing gum is not sufficient; it is sweet, it makes you wonder
about sugar crystals
they grow like bones
they are brittle
but the taste of blood, of coffee, of chocolate with no milk is good
you can remember without remorse
you can sit and think about dreams
without letting them in
and all your pain can stay subcutaneous
as long as you don’t speak
haven’t you heard what happens to girls in heat?
those sweaty painted-palmed girls
who slide through slick, sick summer days
as though light were some precious commodity
and traded hands instead of staining their backs
and you, little firecracker, fought fahrenheit
with fire, counting the days on your slow-burning fuse,
and in the meantime taking those
romanticized long walks on the beach
holding hands with nirvana
stealing kisses from his pockets
and ultimately concluding that he was too dry,
too serious, too much like thunderstorms
without rain, and not dipping his feet
in the tide, lest the sand stick to them
so you walked off into the horizon,
dragging your worries with you
you said “bring me the blanket,”
and i opened the blinds,
drawn for days,
spilling sticky wine on your skin and
stuffing sweet cheese between your cheeks,
we held a picnic in our third-floor apartment,
sunlight filling our nicest china.
i. you were made of heat,
chewing the sun in your breath mints,
spitting its seeds in the dirt.
a fog clung around your head, the air
entranced by the warmth
coming from your fingertips.
ii. the river ran by a meadow
of crushed glass and pavement,
black and dusty, and blooming everywhere
were broken necklaces and aluminum
flecks of dew.
iii. footsteps and drawstrings,
when you lost one you’d inevitably
take the other. a soft thread of wind
to cut your throat, a dragging adventure
iv. if you went home and wrote a poem
about your eyes, you’d forget all about
the wax weighing down your eyelids
and taking away your sleep. it was never
a part of your ideal appearance,
lying on a tile floor and looking for a
one-way mirror to take you back.
what if you were the architect
and i was just the dreamer, dissociative,
passing seamlessly through the clumsiest portions
of someone’s mind
and we were both cubists
kissing ourselves when we were
supposed to be in love
the confusion came easily when i
in your eyes was no different from you
and a talk was the same as a touch
if you were standing in my way i
could always step around you and thus
be right back where i started with my hands
always on my own throat, always
you were not the saint your yellowed hands
and stained, creased eyes would make you out to be.
you told me you had kissed some other girl and that she
was nothing like me and that’s what you liked about her.
you called her chaos and said that every time i locked my
thumbs together the bones began to decay. you said that you
hated when my hair covered my eyes because i never wore it back.
you said my voice never rose above a whisper and you were right
even though you never asked me why.
you were lying when you pretended that you were something
better than me. your ankles had grown together from the years
of letting them hang languidly and some ugly weeds (wildflowers)
had held them there. every word you spoke was folded carefully like
an origami bird that you spit out from the back of your throat, polished
in a sugardrop gloss sticking to the seams. you knew the presentation was
just as important as the message and maybe i knew it too once.
i started off planning to write about me but it never works out.
the walls were once paneled brightly, splashily—
a drop in the bucket or a room on fire
like the roof of pure expression in the form of vivid umbrellas
that now absorbs her every move
when it rains. she is a nicotine stain, no longer trendy,
just old, and compensating with watered-down decaf.
her clothes have gotten grayer every year, and she
blames the laundry. how can she focus
on sorting colors when she’s been spitting out
her husband for the last thirty-seven years?
piece by piece, she scrapes off her tongue and gathers
her belongings, which have also dwindled
to this shawl, not meant for the rain, the cacophony
of hanging birds. it’s lighter, she would argue,
than any raincoat, and almost as effective, giving her
the appearance of indifference, like her eyes,
which used to garner compliments, swift and vicious,
intended to slowly gouge them out. and now she
smiles in negative, like a dream, and reality passes
her by. even the rain is fading out, an audience
where only the smattering applause of stragglers
remains. and she walks slower than ever, not because
she can’t speed up, but because she’s humming a song
she used to sing to her son, and in that moment
she becomes a poem, etched in the language
of forgetting, of dissection. but she can be happy,
dripping as she is with newly fallen rain and
a few loose cells floating in her hair.
on the day my sister was born,
my dad took me to a minor league baseball game.
i watched the pitcher as he chewed the
pitcher’s mound to shreds with the teeth
of his stride. the ball combed the air, taking with it debris from the kind of sad people
who show up to watch short-a ball
while somewhere, a little girl is
dragging out her claws and staking her
claim on the operating table.
my older brother littered the yard with
bottle caps. this stadium was his dream.
he would have slept in the unheated walls
for a chance to touch all 216 stitches
with two perfect hands.
the batters today are fooled by
a series of nasty changeups that
cough their hearts up. peanut
butter and jelly awaits them in the
dugout. a couple of halfhearted
diehards keep score on the back
of their wrists, the pen tying up
their veins. the pitcher authors
the whole game like that, a painful
i want to leave. the kind of
faultless art makes me sick. he
was born in uniform, certainly,
and glowing, his arm whipping
around from the womb and tossing
out any notion of normalcy his parents
may have held. nobody can touch him.
he never cut his feet on old
beer caps in a quest to touch
a patchwork god.
the next hitter becomes a runner
when his hands take his heart
around the block and come back
with a ball cutting the air, colliding
with a meteor that surely would have
destroyed the world. someday on a
faraway planet they will see that ball
bouncing through the stars, restless as
the man who drove it. that spot on the
atmosphere may never recover from its
brush with non-destiny.
nobody dreams in the minor leagues, not even
the batter-runner whose arms have just
propelled his team to a spot above
heaven. god will surely collapse them soon.
there is a girl somewhere, being bathed
by a stranger. she has ceased to be dead.
a miracle for certain.
we could disapprove so heartily
of everyone around us, so unfamiliar
with the abyss that they were always touching,
they were the emptiness, all ugly laughs at things
they didn’t understand. they were the people under sway,
patriotic as they were to hate the countries with no names
and not comprehend all the beauty that flows from chaos.
no books in neutral colors would ever touch their hands
or bruise their minds.
and music becomes noise when sung so loudly
and emotionlessly, if you don’t know what you’re saying
half the time. i found the city to be a cornucopia, a cacophony even
of dial tones and rushing fingers, busy yellows and belts up around the
iron lungs. the lights would only alternate, never seem to concede the stars
their share of night.
and clothes were only to hold in the edges of
people and their problems that they had to share
in the form of made-up dreams, the communist manifesto
of personality problems and narcissistic smiles.
i’ve moved from place to place, looking for something quiet,
but the flow of time could only grow louder, and absence hasn’t
made my heart grow the weeds of unwanted fondness, but sometimes
i just can’t bring myself to even
the space at the back of your knees
was always straight; you never bent your
legs and held the air rigorous around them.
compensating for this, your shoulders were forward,
fixing your eyes on a seam in the sidewalk
just a few inches deep but crawling with breath
and some child’s skinned palms
and the gap between your collarbone and rib cage
was a moat. fingers could sink between the lines,
between the countries that made up the map, folding
and unfolding you, and between the rivers of everything
you contemplated as you slept. a smile crept over your spine.
elbows locked around the town, a fist forming the
peak of the hill that everything washed around. you were
the boundaries, the clumsy first kiss behind the school,
the same bricks every time, and nobody is alone. all the
graffiti holds itself in place with memories.
i could tell you were leaving by the way
you said “love” so many times in so few words
and your eyes were already blurred, looking anywhere but here
and the light had moved its way over you, and you wanted to
leave right then, just to separate your body from its tight
and unrelenting binding you had draped yourself in
all those years ago, being in this place
let’s be wild and crazy
in a plain white room
with a post-modern unknown painting
not exactly catching our eye
we know it means emptiness but we choose to reject
let’s talk to strangers
for the sole purpose of changing our minds
time and time again
we grew up thinking everyone was perfect
and now we know it’s true
and beautiful to be unclean
let’s wait for the last train
to leave the station and talk about
the people on board; was the girl,
fresh out of college and making all the 20-something
mistakes, seduced into working late? what drew her
to the gray streets of nowhere? are the people on board
just ghosts? we stand on the tracks but know
there’s not another train coming
and we feel cheap for pretending
we’re going to die
but aren’t we?
i used to live in boxes,
not just the ones from packing my life
away and expediting it, or where i would
store myself under old refrigerators,
making soft buzzing noises with my tongue
i kept things in them, wings plucked
from butterflies and soaked in the
sickly sweet scent of formaldehyde.
it was satisfying to separate myself
from all the spheres of influence
and drops in the bucket
of my mind.
the past was all accorded for,
the present mattered not. i could get by
on scratching windowpanes for golden flecks
of light. as long as i had the memories of
being too young to understand thoughts,
i was okay, and okay was a word i could say
without regret. it promised nothing.
so what chance did you stand, all silver
and sparkles, speaking backwards and boiling over
with steam? you pretended it was virtue you were
smoking, hand-rolled, on the slowly sinking porch.
i could taste it as hypocrisy, some softest contradiction.
and i wanted to seal you off, garnished in
a soft sort of word salad, and dressed with adjectives
like “lonely” or maybe just a little bored. my way
was too angular for your knees, softly curved as they were,
and supple on my chest. you compartmentalized
so sloppily into a stream-of-consciousness story.
so there is a box for you, sitting somewhere, and i confess
that i always wanted to sleep alone. a can of soda
can be champagne if i’m celebrating something. and so
i think i’ll spend my night sugary and sober, painting
the sky cardboard and faded, like a memory without
a frame to hold it in.