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The years have not been very kind to you. You look older than your 26 years, haggard, cracked. Your hair is close cut, but you're nearly bald now. You once said it was from stress, but I remembered the genes carry from a mother's father, and I almost ask, then remember you never knew your mother. The only grandfather you can remember was cruel and drunk, and poured whiskey on a beetle while your uncles laughed. Your eyes are still those of a frightened child, a well-like soul, lit with some insane fire. You're thinner than I remember, but still not thin enough to fit into your dress blues. Where are they now, I wonder? Probably in the house that never felt like home, sheathed in plastic, smelling of cigarette and marijuana smoke. You're smoking again. I watched you leaning against your old truck, talking to someone, flicking the **** into the grass. I entertain the idea of stopping to speak to you, some primal urge of a broken heart. The broken heart that isn't sure if it still loves you, or your memory, split and driven by the reminder that some things simply aren't meant to be, no matter what the books say.
My heart leaps to race again, like a frightened rabbit, unsure where to go, or what to do. Going back was never an option. I turn away.
At work I glance in the bathroom mirror, I am very pale. You don't frighten me, but there is some storm which has blow up, confused, convoluted with time and the gilding of memory. I remember you fondly, if that is any consolation.
I told someone how I loved you, and he asked, half mocking, if I would go and find you. It stung. He was jealous, maybe. He'd already given me flowers, though with promises of friendship, unlikely more. He and I don't speak much now, and it hurts. You and I, another story. We spoke once a year, twice maybe. Always ending with the same scabs tearing off, the same regrets, the same pleading from you, and the same apologies from me as to why it is so impossible for us to relight the drowned kindling that once kept us warm.
We walked such different paths. Life is unfair, that way. You surmounted Everest, Death Valley, the Grand Canyon, only to arrive in a barren, muddy place, without the terrible desolate beauty they sometimes possess. You said I once calmed the storms in your soul. I've never forgotten that. It was always the wrong time, the stormy time, with you. Abandoning a ship you know will never truly make it to harbor, though it may bob and sink and drift for years before running aground, sails tattered, anchor lost.
If I did stop to speak to you, I don't know what I'd say. If it were a film I wouldn't need to say anything, I might run up and throw my arms around you before you could think, and kiss you, long and sweet. You would taste like smoke and coffee and rain. I would draw away, and say something about how I never go to kiss you goodbye. Which is true, I never really did. The last time I saw you, our hands didn't even touch. But this isn't a film. If I did stop, I wouldn't know what to say. You might not either. If I tried to kiss you, suddenly, I might scare you, set off the combat-tested reflex of self-defense, paranoia, panic. You would taste like coffee and tobacco, maybe ***. The pungent smell would be noticeable on your clothes as you pushed me away from you, cursing me, reminding me you told me never to speak to you again, unless it was to say I found some impossible way to return your dogged love. Your hands would be rough, dwarfing my small arms, your tall body dwarfing my small frame. I felt beautiful when I realized how small I was next to you. I still remember that night when you put me on your shoulders like a child, and carried me back to the car, as I bent down every so often to kiss you, wearing your hat. You'd cut your hand badly at work, but still insisted on holding mine.
I don't know what you'd do now. I don't know what I would do now. What should be done? I know I do not want to rekindle the drenched flame, but care is still lingering. I think of leaving a ten under your windshield wiper, hoping you'd buy yourself a meal. I consider writing the title of the song I wrote about you in the bill's margin. I wonder what you'd think now if you heard it. I can't remember if I ever sang for you. Probably not. We never got drunk together, and I've only ever sung in front of others slightly intoxicated.
But I'm drunk now. Drunk on rainy-day memory and what if's, and I realize I will never sing for you.
Ran into my ex.
There was once a boy who was so in love with a girl that he forgot her.
He forgot her eyes
Glittering like the sea
And her lips
Curved like a scarlet bow

The freckles across her nose
And her arms
He forgot the shapes of each one-
The constellations that they made

Her scent
Her skin against his
So smooth that it felt like nothing
Her cool hands
That burnt her in summer

He forgot the way to felt to hold her
In his arms
Pressed to his chest
The way he voice sounded
In the morning
At noon
In the evening
The fluidity of her laugh
The sadness in the way she held his hand
And the change in her heart beat
Against his fingertips

He loved her so much
That he forgot her

He stares at me
Across the room
Save me
Save me
He shoves words down his throat
Until he can’t see
And he covers his eyes
Until he can’t breathe
I thought that you were freedom
But the words you murmur against the palm of my hand

They're beginning to taste
Like a cage
 Sep 2015 Steven Martin
I don't want my life to be a novel anymore. A show. It's beautiful because it's sad, but it feels like it's for other people to look at. Look how strong she's been, look how hard she falls, look how passionate she is. They look but don't touch. They admire but they won't love. I don't want to be a pretty thing, I don't want to be a jewel you examine to see if perhaps you want it, deliberate, ooh and ahh but ultimately decide to set it back down and leave the shop. I am not a thing! I am not a choice. I am a soul that has been treated like a commodity, like a thing, I have been used up and bartered, but I have not been loved, not for long, and never well. And I am wearing out. Tarnishing. A lovely thing gone black with fingerprints but never truly TOUCHED. Every time I feel it. It gets a little harder to conceal the cracks, the dents and tears and scrapes others have left. It gets a bit more tiring each time to say
No, no it's okay, I understand, it is my fault for being what I am.
I believe it less each time. And what then? What when I have run out of meekness? What when I can no longer swallow my pride and hurt? Each time I feel it rising, a tide in me of suffering and outrage, an overwhelming question- WHY would you do this to me? But I know the answer. I swallow the answer like an ember every time it crawls up my throat and screams to be screamed. This is the price of loving a person. Human beings are not tame. They are wild. They come with fangs and fears and cruelties. They come with ignorance and stubbornness. They come with cowardice and pride. And love is defeated in their eyes, every pair of eyes no matter how lovely or how sweet, over and over. I am made too differently to stand and fight against them, and so I have learned to fall, because humans are addictive. These people, these souls. They draw you in and you need their light, their complexity, suddenly you want to comfort them. They are so fragile and so vicious. So exquisite. And so fascinating- for each and every one, no matter how kind, does the same thing with power. They must test it. Touch it. Use it. Their nature begs them to be predators, and they fight it inside, so gorgeously! And they fail so spectacularly! And I fall, wounded, the sacrifice.
There are fangs in me as well, you know. There is venom. Some part of my soul has talons and demands blood. But it, as all vicious things seem to be, was man-made. I was not born with this in me. It rattles the bars of my ribcage and so rarely do I let it see the sun because it has grown from these moments. It has nourished itself on every cruelty I have ever endured.
It says,
See? They are evil inside. They are too selfish to love you. Why do you show them kindness? Why don't you play the game, when you know I hold the power to crush them all? When you know I
Would win?

I shush it with fear and with awe. It is not me. It is only what drags me up when I cry on the floor. It is merely what has brutally, violently kept me alive for all these years and I OWE it, I know I do. I owe it my life several times over now, and yet it is so savage. So cruel. It is the monster that has shown me how to be kind. It rages inside of me and I change its hate into tenderness, and it curses me for my weakness, and we move through this world like a burning ship, sinking and throwing off steam. Moments like this it demands its freedom.
It says,
Take like you've been taken from. Bleed this world dry.
And I say,
I will love it. I will love it until I die of loving it.
And it says:
*You will.
 Aug 2015 Steven Martin
Resign to me, give in.

let me live in the shakes of your
let me revel
in the trembles of
pupils dilating
fingers grasping

make eye contact

shiver deeply beneath me

let me
the house next door makes me
both man and wife rise early and
go to work.
they arrive home in early evening.
they have a young boy and a girl.
by 9 p.m. all the lights in the house
are out.
the next morning both man and
wife rise early again and go to
they return in early evening.
By 9 p.m. all the lights are

the house next door makes me
the people are nice people, I
like them.

but I feel them drowning.
and I can't save them.

they are surviving.
they are not

but the price is

sometimes during the day
I will look at the house
and the house will look at
and the house will
weep, yes, it does, I
feel it.
Please don’t call me beautiful
when your hands are between my legs,
and god forbid you say it as a seg-way
between you’re so hot
and my caution, your response
you’re sure you don’t want to?
I’m pretty sure the way my body looks,
nineteen and stress-infused with an Oreo belly
isn’t really what you pictured beneath my blouse,
and I’m positive you didn’t listen
to the story about my dad and the bad prom dress
because you cared. It was just sentiment. You said it was beautiful,
but really you wanted me to believe the act
like a description in the Playbill
and ride that trust all the way until the curtain dropped.
Please don’t call me beautiful
when the word ******* is before it
or if we are ******* because making love
is for married couples and you don’t even want me
sticking around for the ****** sunrise that peers
underneath your shade every morning.

Tell me I’m beautiful when I’m crying—
crack me open and watch the colors bleed
like a painting that hasn’t dried. Admire
the light that peaks through the clear parts
like a windowpane, no blinds.
Tell me I’m beautiful when I’m laughing,
when I’m reading my favorite part of a book,
when I’m stuffing my face with peanut-butter
pretzel bites and I haven’t washed my sheets in weeks,
and I’ll know you can’t be lying
because I’ve listened to the waves your heart makes
when you’re sleeping and I’ve called your smile
to the surface many times when you’ve tried
to deflect it back inside. You’ll know that
and you’ll know I’m beautiful.  
Call me beautiful
when you’re not even trying.
Call me beautiful when you’re by yourself
and the smell of my hair is still on your pillow,
or the memory of how dumb I sounded
singing my favorite song breaks your heart back
to the best little pieces.
Try to understand.
you are
the thunder
i am afraid of
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