Submit your work, meet writers and drop the ads. Become a member
May 2019 · 196
My Skeletons
Lilli Sutton May 2019
That summer in West Virginia:
washing myself clean
with brown water
from the Ohio river.
I saw gar sunning themselves
near the surface: fish with a thousand teeth,
fisherman’s nuisance. Like me:
take the bait and sink.

Matt takes us to the woods
and promises a surprise.
We slash brush for miles,
and I bleed. Thorns cut up and down
my skin. So easy to get lost out here –
multiflora rose so thick you can’t see
the sky. Crawl back to where you came from.
Plants move so slow, but I have patience.

Back when I could tell the birds apart
I held a dead wood thrush
in my hand
and it felt like air.
Eyes closed and tilted to the side –
because of the window, because a bird’s eyes
are not adapted to see glass. I wanted to bury it,
but instead I laid it in the grass.
For the worms: because we are all going.

We find the magnolias. No one is quite sure
how they ended up here, but they look exotic,
different from the pawpaws and oaks
with their shiny leaves and white flowers.
To be a bird in the magnolias – hermit thrush,
singing in a language too old to understand.
Voice of god calling out to say: come home.
If only I knew how to listen.
May 2019 · 112
Walk Before Bed
Lilli Sutton May 2019
I saw two fireflies tonight
blinking above the storm drain
like lighthouses –
to say “caution”
before I came closer

and the sound of the spring peepers
gave me goosebumps,
or maybe it was the cold –
after the storm earlier,
lightning flashed in the sky –
not from the heat;
something more real

I met a man with seven children today
two with the same birthday –
not twins
just circumstances

when I stepped in the path of the truck
he revved the engine
and I was caught in the headlights
for a moment -
May 2019 · 219
End in the Middle
Lilli Sutton May 2019
Redbud trees bleeding at the side of the road.
Must be almost May – the air is humid
and insects rise up out of the grass.
My steps move like a giant.
Every word I speak is the newest sound
in the universe, for a moment.
Or it’s too much pressure – I want to fold up
and be silent for a while. Say my solemn goodbyes
to the last two years and let go.
Maybe I’ll hibernate in the summertime
and come out in the cold. Or I’ll be like a firefly –
lighting up in the battlefields in June,  
synchronize my glow in the Smokey Mountains.
Comfort in the sameness – we all are just blinking,
a figment in the pages. When I write, the only thing
I want to say is: I was here. I was alive. I was happy.
May 2019 · 198
Lilli Sutton May 2019
Maybe I wrote too much about it
and that’s why I can’t ever forget now.
I looked back at old pictures yesterday
and noticed that she squints her eyes in pictures
the same way I do. Like we both want
to shut out the world when we smile,
close our eyes to seal in that happiness of a moment.

I believe that some of our parts
were probably made of the same substance,
or at least at the same time.

Sometimes I feel like a seagull
in a shopping center parking lot –
so far from the place I was made to inhabit.
They gather in droves and shriek
and it sounds so loud
without the ocean waves to drown their voices.
Maybe I’m just too noisy for West Virginia
and one day I’ll be somewhere that makes sense –
where I’m the right volume, like starlings
in Europe, like kudzu in Japan.
May 2019 · 124
The Oceans Are Growing
Lilli Sutton May 2019
Today we saw pictures of tunas
caught in nets – mouths gaping,
silver bodies thrashing. Somewhere
beneath that are fish adapted to live
in the cold, dark abyss – sometimes
I wish I could join them. Years ago
I wrote a story about a woman
who drowned herself by diving –
the great pressure, collapse of vital systems
in the deep. That image never left.
I used to think we would meet each other
halfway, but now I see we were always
just casting line in different sections
of the stream, missing the fish
in between us. I miss you
but I can’t say that yet. It’ll be years
before I consider you a friend.
Between cities I touch the bare earth
with my hands as much as possible.
All day I helped people find their voices
amid the constant din –
there are a lot of people in the world
and a place for all of them, I think –
probably even me.
May 2019 · 169
Missed Connections, Pt. 2
Lilli Sutton May 2019
I still check Craigslist sometimes
just to see what people are giving away
or trying to sell. Scraps of wood,
tires and furniture and pieces
of their hearts – so glaringly clear.
Sometimes the missed connections
are ******, sometimes just raw –
strangers stripping off their skin
and laying their bones in the streets,
to say – we never met properly,
and I miss you because of it.
Or longing – do you remember
the way we used to look at each other?
I want to love someone enough
to tell the whole world about it –
like that, private whisper into white space.
The bravery to say – we’ll meet again
one day, because of this,
because you feel the same
and would do anything to find me.
Or maybe it never works,
and all this is simply a semi-private performance
of grief, of oneness, of the in-between.
May 2019 · 151
Playing Catch Up
Lilli Sutton May 2019
Yesterday was so good
that I forgot to write.
Even with the heavy gray clouds,
the threat of tornadoes,
and the skies that had already opened
when I left oceanography,
so I got soaked on the walk
back to my car. It’s spring again
and that’s all that really matters.
I talked to Carter on the phone
in the morning, about robots
in grocery stores and how
this is probably the beginning
of a slow replacement and one day,
we’ll have no use for humans anymore.
Maybe that just means we’ll finally
be able to do the things we want again.
I want to lay in the grass
like we did last Tuesday, in between
obligations, just to feel the sun.
Even on the cloudy days (and that’s all
there ever seems to be now) –
I don’t ever want to be alone,
and I don’t want to be anything but warm.
I still can’t sleep during thunderstorms –
I have to stay up with the light on,
until the lightning is over. But I don’t mind
having my bed beside the window –
sometimes the wind comes in, or the rain,
and I let it.
May 2019 · 189
The Day After
Lilli Sutton May 2019
On main street in Sharpsburg
the man who always sits outside
is in his usual place,
and I wave to him on the drive home.
After eating in the sun, and the books
and the pet store. My sister and I
talk about it and I tell white lies
on the phone. About how I’m still
coming to Utah and how I’ve found
a place to live, but I can’t go there yet –
the truth, but slant. I keep hoping
I’ll know what to do on Monday.
It’s spring, and I mark the time
by the dead deer with necks twisted back
lining the sides of the roads. Since yesterday,
the ugly parts stand out more.

Tonight I went to the river
to visit my friends and help them
make a campfire. Something I’ve always
been good at – arranging sticks,
even green ones, so they go up in flames.
We toast marshmallows and I sit close
to the ground, so my face is hot.
They leave for a little while, and I watch
the flames spread alone and listen
to the spring peepers. In the creek beside
the river they are deafening, and I want
to cover my ears on the walk back to my car.
But I leave them be, and let the cries pour in –
I know what it’s like, to be small,
to want to make noise in the world.
Apr 2019 · 133
Luke and the Rabbit and I
Lilli Sutton Apr 2019
Luke finds the head of a rabbit
in the backyard – he carries it
in his huge jaws, swallows it whole
until he spits it out again at my feet.
I see its black eyes and matted fur
and the red, wet inside of its throat.
Luke watches me, to see what I will do
but I cannot move. So he takes the rabbit
head again, closes his mouth around it.
He stares at me, like this is our own private
secret, this dead thing he carries.
I want to grab his face, force about his teeth
and bury that severed head deep in the ground.
But what would that teach him?
Apr 2019 · 293
White Rabbits
Lilli Sutton Apr 2019
I stretch out Thursday afternoon
until it is see-through at the edges.
I talked to so many people today
and all of them chanted: go west
but maybe that’s not what’s best for me.
Down south is crawling with ***** whispers
and I want to pull them out of the ground
and rinse them clean. Like vegetables
spread out on the kitchen table
in late September: orange and purple
and the scent of soil heavy
by the open windows.

At my aunt’s house,
as a kid, the mudroom was my favorite place -
transition point between low-ceilinged
dark and quiet inside space
and the impossible Vermont sky,
the chickens and the garden
and grass that sloped down to a valley
the size of my child fist. Sometimes in the evening
we’d see coyotes creep from the shadows
of the trees down below, or hear the foxes cry.
We would hike up the gravel road
and climb the mountain before the sun set,
scramble back down in the dusk.
I wish I remembered more
than just picking grass and slowly
splitting it into strips, to learn the way
my hands were capable of deconstructing.
But it came in useful later,
when we went into the woods
to strip the birch trees of their bark:
the best kindling for fire.

So smoke rises and chases us.
To keep the smoke away,
my aunt says, you have to think
about white rabbits. Little
does she know - my ideas
are always half-baked or burnt.
Never the way they should be.
So I do what I think I hear her say –
and I think about white rabbits,
covered in mud.
Apr 2019 · 198
Lilli Sutton Apr 2019
Last minute words:
the sun dips low
in the sky over
the brown Potomac –
wind drives the current
backwards until the water
is so still. We talk
about fish sleeping
at the bottom of the river.
I let my fingers dip
into the water
when no one is looking.
The molecules part
around my fingers –
so cold, so sweet.
Apr 2019 · 936
Four Days in St. Louis
Lilli Sutton Apr 2019

Sometimes I think I can get through anything.
Wrong again – except, I made it to the city
with my patience still intact. I liked the early morning
best, deer in the wheat and crows in the corn.
Midday the sky turned blue and warm wind
rolled over the Ohio hills,
but I was too sick in the backseat to notice.
No matter. Indiana gas station as the clouds
start to roll in. Here the land is flat
and brown and empty. The sky
comes down to touch the earth and everything
goes gray. Finally I’m behind the wheel
and I wish it had been like this the whole way.
I can go fast on the highway and it feels
like traveling back in time, cruising in reverse
the way we came back from Utah years ago.
When the heavens open I’m not scared –
I’ve met god before, just like this – Midwest
melody of rain against the pavement,
or just the song of shutting eyes.

But I didn’t sleep last night. I was too busy
thinking about all the songs I’ve forgotten.
When you’re old, music is supposed to help
you meet yourself again for the first time.
I wish that could happen now – so I pick songs
that matter. Missouri is warm and windy
and it takes all day before I can escape. The arch,
the Mississippi – portrait of a city
that I know must be so ugly on the inside.
Or maybe I like it here. I read O’Hara
in the hotel room alone – I don’t have words
to fill a city that way. The din of beautiful comfort
resonates within this bubble – I stay back,
linger by myself.

What a long day – it’s only 10 in the morning
when Katharine convinces me to fly back.
So I picked out all those songs for nothing –
oh well. It’s not the first time
I’ve done something in vain. Puddles standing
on the sidewalks – it doesn’t matter
if my shoes stay dry. I am guilty
of the default answer – I don’t really want
to hear the question, I just want my voice
to be the most important sound in the room.
At the same time, I don’t like to be the center
of attention – I dissolve to the edges,
wait until I can slip through the cracks unnoticed.
Later we bond about Thursday’s drive –
how we were both afraid, but didn’t want to say it.
I can’t keep my eyes open on the plane,
but I also can’t sleep. Dusk comes faster
than it’s supposed to – we miss an hour.
On the tarmac in Virginia the wind is dry and hot –
it’s too warm for March, and I don’t know what
to make of it. I wait on a bench for my friends
and beside me, a woman cries, but I don’t say anything.
I’m always at a loss for words around strangers.
On the hour ride home we try to figure it out –
what we’re each saying in our coded conversations.
All weekend I heard words, but never the right ones –
for all the intricacies of human language,
it’s insurmountably difficult to tell you how I feel.

So I’m not in St. Louis anymore –
but for the sake of consistency, let’s pretend.
I could have ridden back with the twins today,
flat farms giving way to the rolling hills of the east again.
Maybe that’s why today feels like an undeveloped dream –
I only have one side of what should be a full circle.
At the farmers’ market we eat jams and chocolate,
and Michelle pets every dog. The air is cold and sweet –
I notice the hint of green around the edges of the trees,
the bright yellow of forsythia and the crocuses.
We’ve arrived at the in-between: soon, I won’t remember
winter, but I have a feeling that what has followed me
the last few months might stick around.
Apr 2019 · 171
Four Days in Wachapreague
Lilli Sutton Apr 2019
Rolling down to Virginia
in a gray shuttle – the rain
cascades off the windows.
I close my eyes but I can’t sleep.
I don’t know anyone here
well enough to be that kind
of comfortable. We reach the bay bridge
but the fog is so thick it’s like we’re suspended,
or we never left the ground to begin with –
no water beneath this bridge.
It isn’t raining in Wachapreague,
for now, the wind is cold
and it blows the clouds away.
If I shield my eyes to the sun
I can see way out past the tidal creeks
and the salt grass – out to the Atlantic.
Later, rain comes in waves –
we cook dinner and joke about ghosts,
and I wonder how many of my own
I brought here with me.

What a privilege to own a boat –
to be your own captain, or even
just to know the waves. The sun is brilliant
but the wind burns cold – before the end
of the day, my nose and cheeks
are lobster-red. It’s so easy to get lost
in the tidal creeks – just acres and acres
of spartina, flat and brown now
but six feet tall in the summertime.
We dredge up creatures from the bottom –
***** and worms and sea slugs.
We eat lunch on a graveyard of shells –
I find the empty husks of horseshoe *****.
Eagles and oyster catchers watch us pass
sit tight on similar whitewashed mounds
of expired homes. The sun is low
when we reach the mudflats –
here the earth is shallow. Seven ways
to catch a clam, but I only know one –
to look for holes that bubble. I fill
my pockets with the dark misshapen
creatures. Sometimes the holes
rush full of water before I can even see
what I dug up. Soon the tide will come back
and swallow the wet sand again.
I want to stay put, watch the muddy water come
learn to filter through it
like the oysters and the clams.

Early morning on the bayside –
wind, more brutal than yesterday
beats the surface until the waves
are whitecaps, and the skiff pitches.
We go back to the tidal creeks,
where the trees block the wind
and the sun illuminates the muddy water.
We watch an osprey glide and dive for fish.
Back in the lab, isolated in white
I see strange animals. For hours
we look for answers to the simplest
of questions: what is this?
Some creatures we toss back
and some we wrap in clear plastic bags.

The long ride home –
half between sleeping and waking
drenched in sunlight. I’m small,
or trying to be – conserving space
wherever I can. I eat my fill of ginger snaps.
The bay bridge is crystal clear this morning
and it gives me a strange feeling, deep
in my stomach – somewhere between
excitement and dread, a fear
or a nod toward what’s coming –
a mystery, creeping in and unfurling
like when I was a kid, awake too late at night
feeling dumb, for hoping, for wanting,
and most of all, for not yet knowing.
Apr 2019 · 160
Rhonda and Diana
Lilli Sutton Apr 2019
Fluorescent light flickering in the library
gives me a headache. I should read
but I’d rather let my head be empty.
We had a long conversation this morning,
and cried – she said, “yeah, you’re young”
and “yeah, your parents are getting older.”
Do all you can and hope for the best –
I keep feeling like I’ve walked off the bridge
inadequately prepared. Like I did that summer
in Ohio – we counted down, to keep each other honest.
Hit the cold brown water and came up gasping –
at least then I had a friend. Or the in between –
we could have been in love, two Octobers ago.
If I had opened my mouth sooner.
This morning I said “what should I do
when the one truth about myself
that I’ve always believed falls through?”
No easy answer – I’m just changing again,
shedding skin. Diana says “look at you –
doing everything I’ve always dreamed of.”
Only I don’t feel so lucky. I want to go back underground,
filter soil to the bottom of my tongue.
Stutter of a heart that’s half homesick, half escapist.
I haven’t even left yet, but an hour
isn’t enough time to spill out the last three weeks.
Like rallying the home team, everyone is wearing
my colors, except if I look too fast
it’s all just black and white.
Apr 2019 · 138
Glass Hands
Lilli Sutton Apr 2019
Monday, curled up in bed all day
watching movies in the dark,
alone – my least favorite way
to watch a movie. Oh well.
Blue lights for company.
My hands full of tiny pieces of glass.
A dumb decision – not when I dropped the bowl,
not when it shattered, but after I cleaned
up the pieces – I tried to scrub
my hands in the sink, left a million
tiny cuts burning on my fingers.
If I spend one night alone,
that’s how I want the rest to be –
so forgive me if I stay upstairs.
I can hear my friends in the living room
leave the door cracked so their voices
float to me. The most comforting sound –
as a kid I slept with my ear pressed to the floor
beside the vent in my room, to listen
to the TV coming up through the cracks.
The news, and my dad snoring,
and the cold wood against my cheek.
Apr 2019 · 123
Lilli Sutton Apr 2019
I am treacherously overwhelmed.
Just want to be small again, fruit fly
small. On the fringes. Annoying,
but ultimately insignificant.
Just a buzz in your ear. Will there
be a time when we don’t talk?
I hope not, furiously. Strong emotions
with passive actions. I want grand
gestures. I should study whales
but I’d rather sleep. Other people
are the safety and the bullet. Always
so thoughtful. I left the fruit bowl
half empty on my bedroom floor.
Meals have less meaning now.
Did you eat – sure – not food,
less physical. I’m full of hard pills
to swallow. I have a jaw made
for breaking. Hate that I’m always
on your mind. Or I love it. People
keep asking to see me but I’m gone,
gone, gone. Next weekend
and the one after. My friends
have to live inside my head, that’s it.
I’ll leave a light on and a key under
the mat. You can stop by,
whenever you want me to think of you.
Lilli Sutton Apr 2019
Thinking about heading west again.
Except now it’s real. Maybe a basement
apartment in the suburbs. Or just somebody’s old bedroom.
My mom says I need to slow down. Rest.
She knows I’ve been sick for months.
But then I would have to start thinking again.
On the way to her house, this morning,
there were two pickup trucks parked by the train tracks.
The sky hurt to look at - what else is new.
Something hurts inside too – a place I can’t pinpoint.
I want to drive and listen to sweet music.
But should I leave when I came so close to losing you?
I don’t want to be half a world away
if the ground breaks. You think the desert
sounds good for me – it does, it does.
It’s so hard to tell when you’re happy for me.
We have the same sad eyes, the same predisposition
for addiction – same blood, too thick. That side
of my family reads like a warning label.
The other side – less clear – I spent a lot of time
with family last week. Finally I piece together
that maybe my mom is the black sheep. Not
in the traditional sense – but a runaway, scared.
I’m scared too. Not of the same things, always.
I don’t mind being alone at the train station.
My dad says he wanted to tell me in person –
it’s hard to believe now. He still doesn’t want
to talk about it. So I tell him I’m moving –
but it’s the least excited I’ve been.
Maybe I should take the guest bedroom
and just call it quits.
Apr 2019 · 145
One Tremendous Year
Lilli Sutton Apr 2019
Springtime – a few days early
we go to the battlefield and dodge snakes
whitewashed bones by the creek, stop to listen
to the sound of a waterfall – or the rush
of blue and brown beneath the trees.
Hug the riverbanks. Birds are coming back –
goodbye juncos. You say you think
you saw an indigo bunting in California.
Most brilliant blue – but I don’t think
they go that far. Soon we’ll only talk
on the phone, or see each other
twice a year. This morning I brought home pictures
spread them out on my bedroom floor,
and we sat and talked. You said
“this is what happiness looks like. Right here.”
One tremendous year – there’s faces
I would cut out of certain pictures.
But it doesn’t matter now – 26 photos
and all of them look like love. I felt warm all day.
Maybe it’s the air. Or the sun, seeping back
under my skin. Or maybe it’s just the changes –
who we’ve both become. I like us better now.
I want to take it all in slow, like the last breath of air
before I duck under. If I swim long enough
it could be like this again, one day.
Apr 2019 · 140
Memories of Somewhere
Lilli Sutton Apr 2019
Thinking about silence. Or
learning that my voice doesn’t always need
to fill a room. Somewhere there is always
snow falling. Or coyotes fishing.
It’s like a dream. If I go too long
without looking it might disappear.
And then where would I be.
I want to keep everyone happy and alive
and quiet and soft. It’s like I’m the only one
in the museum. Or I’m always listening
to conversations that weren’t meant for me.
A passive way to hurt. I want to take the afternoons
and twist them until the answers come out.
I want it to make sense to you
in the way it does to me. When I get home
I’ll study the birds that live out west.
I want to already know them when I get there.
I’ve had enough surprises – I want to be a kid again
with a hand full of salamanders. Or digging
in the warm, wet earth for pill-bugs.
Universal memories. We waited hours
for the rain to pass and when the lights came on
we gazed in awe at our reflections.
Apr 2019 · 664
Four Days in New York
Lilli Sutton Apr 2019
I spent most of the day on the train from Boston –
writing poems and thinking
of how to undo the mess. I still haven’t found the answer.
My uncle takes me to the Met for the first time –
so much art and so much time
forever onward. Upstairs
modern art canvases, big plain swatches
of bright color. I want to stare for hours
get lost in blues and greens, but it’s closing time
so we get dinner and go back to the apartment.
Beneath the red light and behind curtains
of the same color, I blow up the air mattress
but I don’t fall asleep for hours.

I’m supposed to make breakfast
but they shut the water off. Left
to my own devices, I go to Union Square
and duck in and out of stores all day,
no one to keep me company. Bitter wind skims
off the pavement. I can’t even open my eyes
long enough to see the faces in the park.
Tuesday, when I came home early after cheap dinner
and felt guilty for not doing more. I tried to get ice cream -
one whole hour just to circle a few streets.
I realized – the only day we’ve gone without speaking
in over a year. It feels so good. Maybe it’s cheating
if you reach out and I just don’t respond. But the wound bleeds
every time I open it, and just once I want to give it time to heal.

The long morning where we talk about silence
from people we used to love. Except it’s not sad –
I couldn’t be happier. You’re not joining the army
and I’m not staying in West Virginia. I make hardboiled eggs
before going to Chelsea. I spend hours alone in a museum
but this time I don’t hear the music. I overhear conversations
and write them down for safekeeping. Better than words
getting lost forever. We get pizza and ice cream
and talk about the past. Dad’s in the hospital – has been for a week,
no one told me. Suddenly the ice cream is sour instead of sweet.
Later I hear his voice and he sounds okay. We make plans for the weekend.
I break the silence after one day. Nothing’s changed – it’s worse now.
Whatever – we don’t have to talk. I get wine drunk in a basement
and laugh because everything is so absurd. We get dumplings
and I ride the wrong subway back, the one that makes too many stops.
I’m still trying to figure out the balance
between avoidance and acceptance. One day
I’ll get there. I feel like I’ve been dipped in boiling water,
skinned and left raw. Tomorrow I’m going home
and there’s not enough time. For what I’m not sure –
ever since I stopped wearing the watch on my wrist
it feels like the world is moving so fast I can’t notice,
an illusion of stillness. I shouldn’t have sent that last text –
I always say too much at the end. Always teaching myself
to trip over my own words.

Mornings have become slow and still here.
I never used to linger like this, but maybe it’s a blessing.
Now I can take things in. Old haunts in a city
where part of me grew up. I make grocery lists
for the people I love. Maybe there’s a better way
to care for someone – but I like narrow aisles
and neon lights and people getting what they want.
If I’m alone I can do anything I want. Walk to Central Park
and sit in the sun. Or look at old books. So much time
looking and not reading – does it matter
if I never see the words inside? I wish I was a ***** fish
living in the gutters. I’d swim and swim until I lost my eyes.
I miss the simple landscapes of being home. But I’ll be back
soon. Trains like bookends. Movement like blinking.
Before I leave my uncle asks what I learned and I say
“that I’m capable.” He doesn’t ask of what –
I don’t have an answer. It’s like I used to say –
roll with the punches, or with the trains,
or just roll home.
Apr 2019 · 221
Circular Motions
Lilli Sutton Apr 2019
Reality like the dull edge of an old knife –
no cuts, just rips. I want to go back
to warm fall nights at the train station.
When I still talked to Audrey and we made lemon bars
and we solved problems with incremental strategies.
We danced in the daylight in the shimmer
of passing trains. Now every time I answer the phone
my heart skips a beat. It’s never who I want.
Like a countdown clock on being okay. Or,
setting fire to a field and fanning the smoke.
Signal coming up from West Virginia –
do I belong to the valleys or the hills?
I’m clawing my way through to reach the desert.
We talk about visiting in such roundabout ways.
Like everything – just close your eyes
and say what you’re feeling. The silence is eating
me away and when it’s finished I’ll be a question:
“do you feel the same?”
Apr 2019 · 92
Like Slow Disappearing
Lilli Sutton Apr 2019
Honey on the table
or spilled out –
whatever keeps the fruit flies
coming back.
We went above the river
to see the flood water rising;
it has rained all winter
and now the blue sky feels unnatural.

We used to dream about Washington,
and you’d tell me not to worry
about the gray skies or the rain.
I survived one week in rainforests
and glacial rivers. It has never felt
like enough – maybe we’ll move
to the same town and live on opposite streets.

Lately I have snapped in pieces of the puzzle
but the closer I get to finishing,
the less I want to – there is an answer
in a place too deep to reach.

My whole body has been sick
and I pretend I don’t know the reason –
you said you’d take whatever I would give
so is it wrong of me to give you less –
I don’t know how to quantify the guilt I carry.

Maybe I’ll sell all my belongings,
head west, to a cabin in the forest
and when people look for me
all they’ll hear is the howling of the wind.
Apr 2019 · 306
Lilli Sutton Apr 2019
All the lights were shut off on the bridge
rolling into town; bitter wind rising off the river –
the same wind that’s been blowing
since last night, or even earlier –
when we went to the park and you talked
about driving west with other friends.
I guess that’s supposed to hurt me.

The wind keeps howling
on the drive home the road was covered in sticks
I worried that the train would tip over
and crush me – but I’ve been getting better
at taking blows.

Yesterday was warm and the wind felt right.
We’re getting older – isn’t that – terrifying –
you said you didn’t think you’d make it this far
the last train stop, either get off
or ride the whole way back. Lately I feel translucent,
like you can see right through my intentions
even when I don’t say things out loud.
I’m self-conscious about the inside of me,
about the black stains creeping higher.

Sometimes in the wind I am the bird of prey,
and sometimes the rabbit.
Lilli Sutton Apr 2019
These last two days have been a stasis
snow bleeding white from the sky
or the wind in the curtains –
we had to shut off the heat
and it’s only getting colder.

I like my voice best
when I have something to say –
isn’t that always?

Today everything above was blue
and bright – I had to squint
to see the road.
I tried to ride my bike
but the puddles
kept me from getting very far.

Lately I am so full of feelings
and movement becomes
the only way to escape –
soon I’ll have to admit
that I’m not getting anywhere.

February drags its feet
I was hoping for March
but now it feels impossible –
I sleep and sleep,
and dream of waking up again.
Lilli Sutton Apr 2019
The nightmare continues!
Another installment, and I let it keep going
last night we drank ***** and lemonade
and joked about oceanic trenches
he can name all the trees
and I know what goes on deep below the surface
I think we both wish it was the opposite.

He says I’m the most beautiful girl he’s ever seen
and that he’ll never love anyone
the way he loves me –
and that in his poems, I’m a natural disaster:
so he got one thing right:
my ability to desecrate.

She loves him! And he loves me,
and I want nothing to do with any of it –
I pretend, although I am afraid
that I pull all the strings
reality is a sick attempt
at the six-year question:
I can’t untangle myself from the mess
the layers of mistakes that lead to now.

So I go on a bike ride
I look up to see the sycamores
I love the big leafless trees that hug the riverbanks
the Potomac is overflowing, fast and brown
my bike is rusted and clouds hang heavy
in the sky, but I beat the raindrops
and maybe I beat the nightmare, too.
Apr 2019 · 38
The Couch
Lilli Sutton Apr 2019
In my nightmare there is a black bull
or a man in white – they both wait
I am not allowed to look over my shoulder

punishment changes as I grow older
trauma becomes a delicacy
we talk about it, without ever really
talking about it –

you make a joke about the basement
which was the worst night of my life
but somehow not yours

oh how I want to peel away the layers
to get at what you think
there are six years between us
and I can count the truths on my fingers

perhaps confrontation is the only way through
but when I say stop in my nightmares
it sounds silent
and it does in real life, too.
relationships break up sad friends dumb ****
Apr 2019 · 137
French Buttercream
Lilli Sutton Apr 2019
Friday afternoon at the candle store
a woman tells me how much she loves
the scent of French buttercream, and coffee
we only have one of those, and I tell her

later, I ring her up
for five candles -
she tells me
she’ll light one of them tonight

before she leaves, she comes back
to buy pens and pencils
for her grandchildren
a Christmas gift to put away

then she is crying –
without warning, she says
her mother died, at 89
and she cannot stop missing her

I tell her that the grandkids will like the gifts
what else is there to say
I’m certain I don’t have the words
to ease that kind of pain

and she smiles – and I want
so badly to tell her that I am here to listen
but that is not my job, and then
the wind blows the door shut, and she is gone.
Apr 2019 · 136
The Summer of 2016
Lilli Sutton Apr 2019
Unroll the gilded logic of tomorrow
and make way for backseat melodies
and cement scraped knees
unwashed hands and ***** faces
I want to find the ecosystem where I fit
I want to stay away from ledges
and train tracks and peaks
the ambient echo of stillness
when will I meet what will **** me
and how will I know what to call it

I like the butterfly effect
for its delicate tragedy
I like the end times served on silver wings
out west I saw homes hollowed out of trees
and I wanted to live there
and think about idealization
how I long for times when I was at my lowest
I wonder about my coming of age
what it would look like to a stranger
to grow up in a shell, and wait
for all the bubbles to pop,
for the air to escape

out west I lingered
I explored unreachable tangents
and ate my fill of fruit
to forget about the hunger
that has followed me from the beginning –
from some primordial depth
that springs up within me
I only like the summertime
and the cloyingly sweet reminders of rebirth

why do we call it abrasion and not erosion
the way skin burns away
I used to think that if I peeled enough layers
I’d find the answer somewhere
between muscle and bone
but the longer I live the less I know
and even that is a simplification
my own private eternity feels too short
I know there has to be some way
to make sense of what I’ve been given
but I only know the language of my own body
and beyond that, I am blind.
Apr 2019 · 79
So It Goes
Lilli Sutton Apr 2019
Ain’t that the truth – revolving
door spin, following you towards nowhere
the sickening tilt of highway hypnosis
the lurch of ground beneath my feet
skews the definition of solid – what does it mean –
to fall, hard and fast
as if there was any other way
to make my voice sound like the wind
skimming over the ground off a barren backroad
where the tires spin tracks
and I keep waiting for a red light dashboard
but I am only ever home
and bound by a suffocating stasis

sometimes I’m scared if I look away for too long
the mountains will move again
and cars will plunge over the cliffs
and rot – if I told you
about all the times I’ve felt closest to god
you would notice the common thread
this is just another three-month cycle
of greeting death around every corner
noticing the way I am disappearing
why do I only feel significant
when I am small

I think about animals that live in the desert
and come out only in the darkness
there is a flood coming
rolling up and down the coast
and I move towards the center
it will take a long time
for the waves to reach me here
maybe when it hits
I’ll know what it means to not feel thirsty anymore
until then I’ll make peace
with my futile devices, restructure strings
until the universe matches my vision
just know that when I say
I will die if I think too much
I mean it.
Apr 2019 · 84
Lilli Sutton Apr 2019
Maybe it’s time for a reckoning in the desert
something that strips me to my core
I want to call out and wander
I want to lose my voice before I’m found again
I keep thinking about how a person can ruin a place
will I look at desolation the same
when it’s been weeks instead of days –
when I have no more words to call you back to me
I used to fill hypothetical towns with only myself
but now I realize I bump shoulders with ghosts
I should start to keep more secrets,
I should keep on biting my tongue
it’s so easy to want to make something
to grow a plant in salty soil
how will we live without water
and how will I live knowing what I know
that futility is the backbone of existence
that I’m somewhere halfway through a closed loop
dizzy with that thought of independence.
Dec 2017 · 317
November Poem
Lilli Sutton Dec 2017
I say hello to November again –
left alone on my doorstep, cracked skin
crying out for summer or anywhere
else in the cycle that would replace
damp ground and little birds
with black eyes circling beneath bushes.
How often I have tried to show love for you,
November; I purge everything until I am barren
and blank, until there is nothing more between us.
I make holy spaces between the tree leaves
and in the gutters, sing gas station hymns
and pray myself sick beneath the blue light
that reminds me my happiness is only artificial.
November, you gut me, raw, I am back porch
providence and ***** sidewalks and streets
where no one was ever meant to live.
I give up in the softest of ways, hide in paint cans
and Styrofoam cups and behind floorboards, but November,
you find me, drag me to places I remain in, stoic –
it is hard to argue punishments that fit so many crimes.
November, you are purgatory, and I am stumbling through
hoping I end up somewhere else, because there is no torture
so acute as stagnant suffering, the waiting, watching the train wreck
in slow motion when I knew about the broken tracks all along.
I am left alone beside the bus stop
in an unfamiliar town, bruised and ugly, with no way of knowing
when this will end. But I am still here, November,
so again, we meet, you, boar of the forest, wild pig with teeth,
do your worst, if that is all that you can do,
sharpen my bones and leave me again until next year.
Lilli Sutton Dec 2017
In my car, driving to see you
and in my car again, driving back home –
in too many half-full parking lots,
in hotel rooms and in a slab-walled
prison-cell dorm room, in my bed,
in my roommate’s blue and narrow bed,
in my room, in my mom’s house,
and in my room, here, sprawled out,
empty, fists –
in a room so pink and soft it hurt
and outside, in nameless space –
Dec 2016 · 234
the end
Lilli Sutton Dec 2016
the end.


You came to me with hands blackened from
soot, days spent searching chimneys
for all the things you loved
that had gone up in smoke.


Morning. You were running late but
you crawled back into bed to ask me if I believed
that ***** things could still be beautiful.


Yes, but that doesn’t mean I’ll stop scrubbing the stains from the sink.


We stand in poppy fields
***** high, and then the comedown
first dots like seeds, and then red everything.


I don’t recognize myself in the mirror anymore.
Applying pressure to stop the bleeding
only works on exterior injuries.
I’ve grown accustomed to the silence
in the way that I’ve grown accustomed to the heat
I never really liked it in the first place
I just don’t notice it anymore.


I’ve lost my sympathy for you.
Not something you write in a birthday card but,
I’m running out of options for getting the message across.


This will be the last time.
This will be the last time, I say,
for the fourteenth time this week.
Dull body shaking. These hands
haven’t held something they loved in months.
Since the last time they were full, at least
a box of matches and anything
that ever made me think of you.


Does this make me a bad person?
I don’t know.
I don’t know what to say when
you finally admit that you lost the feeling months ago
except, “okay, me too”
where do we go from here?
I will clean the dustpan anyway, beat the broom against the pavement
sit back and wait.
I used to think this house was empty without you in it,
But now I realize your presence only made me feel complete.
I seal letters and send them to addresses I do not recognize.
This is my return to normalcy,
the planted flowers in the windowsill
I play god with colors
and wait for the universe to stop playing god with
Dec 2016 · 245
Lilli Sutton Dec 2016
I send texts close to midnight
misspell words and jumble common phrases
tell you, “here’s the thing and I’m sorry for keeping you awake
but, this is the happiest I’ve been in months and
it feels like some sort of small victory
that when I wake up in the morning my first thought isn’t
how many benadryl it’ll take me to fall asleep that night. And
I’m not trying to keep anyone but myself here and
I look at how blue the sky is and I think that cold weather
is a small price to pay for something so beautiful. I feel alive again
and yeah that’s a little scary because every inconvenience still has me wishing
I was never born but you’ve got to start somewhere, right? When I
say that I don’t care anymore I mean it’s the opposite of apathy
because everything feels like a message reminding why I am here.
Do you ever get the feeling that you’re going to burst before you get the chance
to tell someone every good thought you’ve ever had? I want to tell you
about every time I’ve been happy to be here. I want it to take less time to explain
why I cried at green grass growing in November and why my anger
turns to happiness of its own accord and why sometimes I feel
like I’m not looking at a mirror but through one-way glass
like I told myself ‘this is all on you’ and let go of the steering wheel.
I’m not ready for this yet. But I don’t look at the future and see black
I see blue and maybe one day it’ll just be a picture of a rose or
one of those symbols that means things are looking up but
anyway, I’ll stop now because you’re probably asleep but to summarize I just wanted to say
I’m sorry for all the times I cancelled plans because I didn’t think I’d make it to the morning.”
Dec 2016 · 273
one summer, forever ago
Lilli Sutton Dec 2016
I think I used to know you.
I think we used to reach deep
for the prettiest pebbles at the bottom
of the stream, wash them clean,
take them home to our mothers. I cut
my heels on the screen door one summer,
banged it too fast behind me when I saw
you coming. I stopped living in the real world,
started living in joint adventures we created.
We kept our secrets on scraps of paper
in holes in trees in the woods. We kept
promises with string around our pinkies. I still
remember everything, all the things I was
supposed to tell you when I got home. I’ve
forgotten the ten numbers that used
to make me feel safe. I buried you in static
and fun times with other people. Escapism,
more like escaping missing you. Missing
the feeling, that feeling, mossy hands,
bare ***** feet, tree-branch kids, kids
who split one universe into ten thousand.
Sometimes I think I can still control time
but never the way we used to. If I could
I’d be back with you, buttercups lighting
up my chin even on the cloudy days. Pressing
flowers against our skin, poppies and
forget-me-nots. Ivy as a bookmarker,
saving the moments I want to remember. Sunroom
sunlight sunshine, all those bright and
beautiful things. You were one of them.
I’ve found others; I’ve been places
where the sun never stops burning the
earth. Nothing was ever like that
in our universes; the only things that burned
were skinned knees, picking the gravel out
felt like coming home to shut doors and
silence. I think about you when I see
dandelions and mud and rainbows
reflected in puddles. I wish I could make this place a home,
I wish I could write down more secrets on
notebook paper, find more holes my hands
can reach, stash parts of myself in this universe,
make peace with all the ones I’ll never return to.
Daisy chain, tree-bark skin, doe-eyed girl. I’m sorry
for all the ways things aren’t the same anymore.
Lilli Sutton Nov 2016
Crisis. Averted,
end it sooner like slow down come down slow your roll
down like point the remote at the tv change the channel when you don’t want to hear the bad news
close the blinds when the sun shines thru because you aren’t ready for that yet
and yes I still love you but that doesn’t matter anymore
because I can see the future I can see the self-blame cycle I can see
the never ending, when the sun burns out and the universe is dark and quiet
and nothing else exists you will somehow still be there
asking me what you did wrong. Listen. I am the dog with the bone who drops his dinner
at his own reflection because he thinks there’s something better
on the other side and maybe there isn’t but I will spend my whole life looking
I am the ticker tape at the bottom of the screen flickering telling you
your hometown isn’t as safe as you thought it was on the night you decided to move away for
good. The footstep that starts an avalanche. The boom and then everything and then nothing.
The universe contained in a single breath. When I wake up in the morning with clouds on my arms I don’t regret that this is the last warm day. Pale skin and the chill sitting underneath my bones,
empty rooms with ceiling fans with no comfortable setting with no easy way to do this.
I think I’ve found my own personal hell and it is a recording of your voice on loop asking me
how you can fix this. Like when we outlawed the sad songs so you had to choose
a different kind of music. Wishing I could order off the secret menu, wishing this was the version
of the story where I never had to leave the wind chimes behind. Here I am in the doorway
with outstretched hands blinking so fast the room is a strobe light. Here I am in the car
in the driveway in the rain wondering if I ever should have come in the first place.
I made my home inside of you and then burned it down,
didn’t even throw away the matches because this is an arson I am proud of. My list of reasons
reads like a declaration of independence. I watch the tv through the glass door so it looks
more like a mirror, like I’m there too when the reporter says there were no survivors. That isn’t true. In the end it’ll still be you me and these questions, overlapping till they sound like gunfire,
and I will stand in the middle waiting (hoping) that one of the bullets will hit home.
Oct 2016 · 258
it's been a month.
Lilli Sutton Oct 2016
I made a promise to myself that I would stop writing poems
For people who will never read them
But because I am bad at keeping promises
Here is another poem about you.

— The End —