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tighten your tanned arm around my waist
put your thumb inside my bottom lip
tell me how pretty i look in a dress
even more with it on the floor
and with a sun-dripping smile
i will bloom beneath the ripened lust
that seeps from your secret gaze
like a blazing hillside of orange poppies
shifting towards you in the soft wind
waiting to be crushed
the truth is

i cannot be contained like that

i cannot be taught to like water 
more than cranberry juice

i cannot pretend for decades upon decades

(years like soft footprints and malnourished
buzzards circling who i really am;
the whimsical part of me
decaying like neglected cavities)

that i enjoy self-discipline and growing muscle

i cannot cook healthy dinners 
and go to sleep at reasonable hours

i will not wake up one morning
and be everything that you hoped for me to be

i tried holding myself very still for a while
i tried to like doing what i’m supposed to

and maybe i will someday

but it won’t be because i loved you
sometimes i drift
into another life
where ivy crawls up
the side of 
a warm building
to my left
as i walk
hand in hand 
with you,
your parents
strolling slowly
a few paces behind.
everything is still
inside of me.
i do not fear 
the future
nor ache for
the past.
my heart beats
quietly next
to yours.
i am only here,
only there.
i do not drift.
i listen to love songs
and am reminded
of my own
keep me awake
i keep falling asleep

i keep forgetting 
that i have
fearfully crawled
into places filled
to the brim with
heartbeats and
suffocating heat
just to find myself
with dry palms
and a soft jaw
minutes later

i hold my tongue
only to cut it off
when i hate
the feeling of it
inside my mouth
and leave it for
him to hold
all pink and slimy
and frantic and cruel
and wonder
why it’s hard for him
to read my poetry

and every night
i lie my head
against the chest
of indifference
and swear that
i can hear the
lazy thump of
his affection
resting shallowly
below thin ribs

i am kept awake
through the
loneliness hours
my own
instead of dressing
the deep cut
we both share
i don’t think my mother
ever brushed my hair.
and if she did,
i can’t remember it.
i could lie and say
that i wonder why,
but i know why.
it was because
she was busy with
my sister’s brand-new curls,
busy tending to her own
dark roots and dry ends.

when i am a mother,
i will balance my sons
and daughters on my lap
and one by one
comb through
their soft mops
with patient hands.

they will never wonder
why i left them
to sort out
the knots
on their own.

they will know
i am there
to help untangle
the predestined messes
caused by the wind,
and caused by me.
sitting across from you
at the white kitchen table
or cross-legged on my side of the bed
is someone hollow.
not as sweet as a fig. not as dead
as the inside of a black rotting trunk
but close. i do not hold beautiful things
like a terracotta vase. inside my head
is a seam ripper that splits everything
down the middle. sometimes
you are standing in front of the bright window,
glowing like a saint. sometimes
i let you fall into an algae-lined pool
that i will not pay to have cleaned.
everything is floating within me.
i haven’t figured out
how to anchor this stuff down.

no one ever taught me how
i have paid the fines
of dozens of overdue library
books i never finished reading.
i love reading.
i love curling up
in a big leather armchair
while the sun reaches out
to me through the window
as time slows
and my coffee grows cold.
but tolstoy and fitzgerald
sit on my shelves
or in my purse
carried everywhere
and collecting dust.
i can see the silhouette
of who i would like to be.
the curve of her hips
the stillness of her limbs.
she grows her own herbs
and tries out new recipes
while her husband is at work.
she doesn’t mind driving
for hours alone
and enjoys singing
along to the radio
going five under the speed limit.
she is not in a hurry.
she is proud
and sure
and poised.
she reads books and returns
them on time.
she gave up on dreaming
and hoping
and longing
and finally began
i could be that girl
whose voice is low and melodic
and coats your mouth with
acacia honey
whose eyes are the color
and depth of
whose presence is thick like
new york summers
rosy like
los angeles in early spring
if i braid flowers into my hair
if i write enough poems
if i learn to show the skin of my essence
but remain an abyss—
i will stop making art
when i become it
i do not speak your name
i cannot even whisper it
instead, i hide it in my dreams
under my sheets
beneath a sky that sees all
but does not burn my skin
do you ever wonder
what the moon is thinking?
does she gaze down solemnly and see
a fading opus
or a symphony simply tightening its strings
for the final act?
do you think it makes her sad
to see the greens replaced
with soot and plaster
the seas rising to meet her
with an apocalyptic kiss?
the falling tide
the slow recession
reminds me that
she keeps our secrets
but i think it breaks her heart
if you look up, you will see
the bright-eyed and
the wide-mouthed—
the interesting, the casual, the adored
glistening in the warm night
peered at through microscopes and
telescopes and stethoscopes
far and far away

we are so desperate to be close
close and close and
close enough to see the blemishes
the scarring and the peeling
effaced by obvious and biased inner-commentary
they’re just not as red or sore as mine
perhaps they were formed under
a different kind of sun

what does the unfamiliar heart say?
does it sound at all like mine?
will i ever escape the sloppy grasp of dullness?
will the world swallow me whole?
if i count the days on both hands
on toes, on eyelashes—
if i only eat green things and
read tattered books and
pretend that i don’t mind—will i ever
break the mirror?
will i find seven years of good luck
between the jagged edges?

to exist as a reflection
is to not exist at all
there are lonely, dark purple heavens
waiting for you to sever your longing gaze
to stop lying to yourself
to hop onto the back of the cow
and begin living somewhere beyond the moon—
to realize, with closed eyes
you belong to the sky
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