Dear Charly Cox,

a response to a newfound poet and her book, She Must be Mad.

Thank you.

I am on your first page

only.

I am at your precipice &

already

you have told me of myself.

Your words a warning

in the midst of our 20-something fog.

I want to see myself in you

so I do. 

You call me out

with everyone too old & too young

to love me

to love you

to love anyone.

But I love you, 

I just don’t know the caliber,

because you know age means nothing 

& everything.

No matter how many times we circle the sun,

we will never be young enough or old enough

to have abscesses of time.

You know this & remember

it all means nothing.

Your words are nothing but a string of letters

spun at random

to the wrong eye. But to mine,

you are perfect. You place these perfections

with intention made easy by years hardened; 

you are whimsical. I like your whims,

the metaphors you follow to their end. 

You are real.

I don’t know your face,

but I know your voice.

And I think I have for a while. 

You Said It.

When I press publish 

I let myself dream 

that his eyes will drift

over the words I’ve written to him.

The ones I can’t publish in private. 

I let my mind pause on his,

my thoughts think on his,

because this is enough. It has to be.

He doesn’t need to read my heart anymore,

he shouldn’t

just as I shouldn’t 

pour the contents of my heart at his feet anymore

so I don’t.

I toss mixed feelings with mixed metaphors in a blender.

Convoluted conceits for him,

blood-red end stops for us,

and Charly said it.

“[I] never got to tell him how [my] heart held out,

how it still occasionally chooses to hold out” (7)

but that’s just it, 

a choice. 

Intrusive thoughts.

The smoke leaking from the wrong end of that cigarette

would taste better blackening your lungs;

but even better, drawn from the faucet of his lips.

Not him, who wants you,

but him, the one who used to want you. 

He will crawl back to you

one day

holding his alcohol and snuff in one hand,

his addictions he warned you about at 20.

He wasn’t too young to know himself,

just too young to change himself.

He will grow back into you

or grow tumors into the spaces you used to fill.

You will say it’s too late, then wait.

Peak your eyes through the crack in your slow-swung door,

and he will come back again,

knowing you are too proud to take him back the first time.

How would you look at yourself in the mirror again,

if you didn’t feign strength?

You will, knowing he loves you,

and you will draw smoke from his lips.

You will clean his lungs

because imagined cancer is cured by love that doesn’t really exist.

You will cleanse him and tell this ghost of him the truth

That the worst intruders are ourselves. 

Plenty. 

“I’ve kissed plenty of boys… 

They all sort of sound similar

which is why it is important to say

not everything I write is about you” (8&9).

You know who you are,

but you don’t know which you belongs to us.

There are so many before and after

and because and 

I don’t realize how many,

until there is still a waving ocean of poems,

after I take you out of the equation. 

Paper Paint. 

White out for the white man I gave everything.

Everything was a chance,

he knows, 

ask him,

because I can’t. 

He is scared to text me,

and we both know he cries every time

my name lights his screen, 

like it used to.

Yet a flood of self-reports 

gushes in blue apple

when he works us the courage.

He won’t text first, but he always texts last.

And I wish I could white out what is real,

because he would be so beautiful

if I could take back half of him,

without taking everything. 

“Knowledgable Near-Misses” (14). 

We all quench our thirst

with people we wish were another.

But this just licks our splitting lips,

pretending a tongue into chapstick.

“Stop teasing feeling” (11); anxiety isn’t passion. 

But it can be, if you let it.

Unstuck your eyes from your own,

just for a moment

and watch the millions of moments smile

for your peripheral vision.

Try learning from lessons,

just try it, and make a different mistake.

France.

I use my own foreign tongue

to bring this world to life.

Yet it is the voices of home

I chuckle for speaking.

If my mother could hear

the “r’s” that come as air

from my throat & my father

could ecute the “l’s” I pronounce as “ie”

they would stick awe on their faces.

Wondering how I hear the conversations around me, 

knowing words not as lagging English 

but as delayed meaning. 

An exercise in class,

come to life. 

Love Letter to Charly,

I hardly go a poem without writing.

This is my love language, 

maddening metaphors

littered beauty.

Even if I didn’t like women, I would be in love.

Because your voice understands me

by understanding yourself. And I don’t know you,

but it doesn’t matter.

Can we kiss & tell

about the boys who have wronged us?

Can we make love

and drive each other to the airport?

Can I read and write all over you, and

can you act like it is all original?

The Life We Know.

I am so used to misunderstanding 

to overlapping sounds and unmatched pitches.

Hearing earing-stabbed crescendos of sound.

Even he pauses before he speaks frankly.

Mais c’est difficile pour moi

parce que il est un homme gentile,

parce que il n’est pas difficile,

he leaves that to me. 

Invited.

Unpick beauty from sense & smarts from lust,

like the calling card pattern

of bad decisions & bows.

I don’t know yet if her lips

will chew me to ruin.

I’ve never broken her skin before,

not with words,

not sober in the sun.

I lust after someone else’s lust for me.

If she wants me enough,

I will crave her, 

and all the men will look on

like touching each other is an invitation.

What if it started this way,

friends at parties

licking the bubble gum sexy from each other’s lips,

like we just want something to chew on?

Am I half & half, or just everything?

If you have one half covered, 

it’s hard to single out the other. 

Alternate Dreams.

Play out what he didn’t say as though he did

because that will help

of course it will. 

To imagine what other world you could take.

You could be happy. 

You are always happy,

like sadness is a past emotion.

Erase fear while you are at it. Not yours- his.

You can handle your own. 

The future has no cracks because you painted it.

You cocked the seams, 

but you can’t really believe your lies 

with his eyes cocked closed. 

You dreamt last night

of your teeth in his neck, just 

like a million times before, but 

this was now. You sunk your teeth 

in closed-eyed flesh & felt a pang where your new lover lies.

Open eyes flashed through the colors you tried to choose,

as though you had a choice, 

and instead of stopping, you took them both in your mouth 

and screamed yourself awake.

You rolled over in your duveted cocoon

and read the message only one of them sent. 

“There is Something Inside of You that Begs to Feel Sad” (32).

even when all around you is joy and half-sung voices,

laughing and running with more energy than you can stomach.

yet you join knuckled hands because you are supposed to, and

you can’t think of a reason to say no.

you have no excuse but the synapses that snap too tight,

too static

but not vibrant enough to resonate outside 

that tiny place in your mind that keeps your legs moving,

keeps your limbs cradling a smile,

and calms your fingers across another’s cheek, because

its okay for someone else to cry. deep breaths, baby,

tell them it will be okay. they can be happy. you are happy,

you just don’t know how to stop sadness. 

Firsts.

“Tonight you’ll have your first kiss.

you know it, you can see it… you feel

so terrifyingly far behind that if it’s not,

womanhood will never greet you” (34)

Is that why you will drink enough to like him,

next time, because you know what to expect now,

even if you still feel behind.

Dancing and saying no, no, no.

Until you ask so it can be your idea.

You are drunk & high & 4am awake,

so you like the way he kisses you.

You hope he is playing you,

so you don’t have to play him. 

It’s 50/50 you’ll find.

You are only truly in trouble

if you both take the wrong 50.

So kiss him, and see. 

Do you like it? Or do you need another drink? 

“Its a morishness sans lust,

it feels innate” (35)

and when you kiss one morning 

waking and sober

you’ll be startled that your body works,

outside of a dream. 

Easier. 

You spend too much money,

too much to stuff change back into your pocket. 

Give it to the people who ask for it. 

If you can spend it on yourself, 

you should give it to them.

You haven’t made money in months.

“Its much easier this way,

[being] the go-to girl for a good time” (43)

you think they can’t tell.

Yet even he, your new friend,

the one who wraps you in his arms

and asks you what it means,

says he sees. 

He says you can’t be sunny all the time,

but you’ve only shown him the sun.

“Which part of you is acting?”

He says he can see, but you can’t.

“Even though the weight still feels tangible,

it can’t be real” (44), but still,

we can be real without weight.

Selective Feeling.

If I wasn’t screaming

cursing my mind

cursing my mouth

cursing

how would I pass the time?

If I wasn’t sinking,

who would watch the world rise around me?

What feelings would stand tallest?

If I didn’t cry,

what would salt my cheeks and wash me pink?

What water would I drink

in the space that forbids all departures

from duvet clouds and feather-stuffed prisons?

What voices would tell me stories,

keep me laughing,

if they weren’t mine?

What would I dream

if my head went quiet,

and my lips sucked sanity from a clear glass,

not smoke from a marbled cup?

What reality could cradle me

better than my near-insanity?

What is left around me

if I smoke out my imagination?

What landscape keeps me without color?

2012. 

The LA cameras didn’t think I was too young

but my mom called me too sexy.

Not with words but with more fabric,

thick, woven colors over 11-year-old skin.

They called me out of 5th-grade class. 

I was photographed and posed

praised and prodded.

My eyes stung with interior wind,

one-two-three 

and you better open your eyes 

while your hair is still floating.

It’s this golden mop- it must be.

The color. I am all the colors 

that name you pretty, so 

that must be all there is to it.

My face has pretty shapes 

because they burn red in the sun.

But don’t let that happen. You aren’t supposed to be real.

But I suppose if this skin insists, 

we can edit reality out later.

Slim child thighs and keep my 5’10” frame-please

take my torso and leave the loose skin,

I need it. 

They choose me from a thousand paper heads,

they choose my numbers,

the lies I refuse to correct with a scale. 

They choose me,

so why don’t I feel beautiful?

It’s not a question.

Gum for Dinner (86).

Dinner is spelled with two “n’s” 

because you want more of it, don’t you?

You always want more, but you are getting better at saying no.

Diner is too small to feed you,

though it tries. With pancakes & poured coffee,

bitter sugar to make you sick.

What you want is the feeling of less. 

The breath caught in your chest,

the breath you wish was enough

to keep you full. 

You try coffee

You try water

You try closing your eyes

any immediate suppressant 

but there is always that other “n” on your plate.

Finish me, finish your dinner.

Convince them you are getting better.

Get better,

but don’t let better give you that extra letter. 

“I feel pretty when I’m told I am” (91).

Then the half-life compliment dies, always slowly.

Dissolving into my drink alone,

I can’t feel anything alone,

not even the alcohol I guzzle just to prove the point.

It just passes through my lips, and I wonder why

I don’t paint myself pretty anymore. 

All I remember is it all being too much-

that powdered tan with its creamed partner.

Brush it! Blend it! Melt it into your skin!

With bristles- no, a sponge- no, your fingers- no,

you should have never started

you just made everything less than perfect, less.

You didn’t erase your faults, you circled them. 

There! There they are- red & white & not quite skin-colored.

You aren’t skin anymore, you are a “trying-to-be-pretty-face.”

I’m called pretty as soon as I leave the mirror.

Releasing my shackled adjectives

and letting them wash down the sink-rotting

with my other discarded features under the drain.

I still smell them when I come home,

so no one is ever invited over. 

“When Did I Become an Image to Sell?” (92).

People praise pretty

like a choice between pink & blue.

Like we choose what grows between our legs,

even if we like it.

And if I use the men’s restroom 

because the woman’s was full, 

does it have to be a statement?

Does it have to be anything at all?

What is wrong with that cardinal call?

To empty our bladder, as all animals, anyway we can.

Yet all of this matters so greatly, my love

for what other way would men find a difference 

between people and themselves?

It. (a response to Otters)

And not the screaming kind.

No, not the kind of horror that shocks silver screen

but the kind that shocks fear into reality, slowly,

how it is all of a sudden.

You weren’t painting outside

your love-shocked face doesn’t own a red nose,

but it is red. Because you haven’t had it in a while, 

and you got used to pretending you weren’t filled with phantoms.

It is not quite it anymore, but you imagined it away from opaque. 

You still read this, everything

I call it. I know you do.

Because even ghosts have IP addresses,

so I can still speak to you of it & you can’t speak back,

just like you always didn’t. But I’ll know you read it,

like you always did.

“Exposure therapy” (104).

There are two ways to get into a pool.

You can introduce your parts slowly to the cool of the water,

seeping skin under its depths in slow-motion, and

take deep breaths- a hundred- before you make it under.

Or you can fall, take a running jump, and plunge

body into cold, accepting shock that only lasts a moment,

and then wilts into numbness. 

You fall, and because you hate being responsible for his pleasure,

you take your own out of your hands.

You just lay there,

let him do as he pleases until he is pleased,

he gets there every time. 

That’s what you remind yourself, but then you start to wonder.

Is he good, or are you just easy?

Does his breath feel warm,

pressed flat on your stomach, or

do you just not have to do anything?

You can close your eyes and open your mouth and 

let him pump the exhales for you.

It’s easy to pass time like this,

but why are you just passing time?

You must like it because you say yes

when he asks you to beg.

You say stop, and you’re hurting me, and he goes faster.

Because you both agreed to this and you

are just an actress. 

The tears that wet your face-planted pillow 

must be the sweat of passion because you

like this.

Because you said yes, and you started it

by looking him in the eye like that.

You brushed his thigh first, and its not bad

if you feel loved and he gets there.

Before him, you waited for it to be over.

With him, you wait for him to start.

And after, you wait for another him to kiss you,

and sometimes, this one doesn’t ask for more. 

When Will I learn?

“Sometimes it is best to go home and straight to bed, instead of exploring the night” (118)

I feel I should know this now, but I never turn home,

not all the way.

I’ll board the bus home early, 9 o’clock,

just to get off at the next stop.

I don’t want to go home,

I never want to go home,

not until I am too tired to do anything but sleep.

So I step myself in the opposite direction,

even if my friends are gone,

or they were never here today,

I’ll find new ones. I’ll find somewhere 

small enough to hold me in a crowd,

invite the nearest English voice to speak to me,

and hope they don’t expect more than words.

Sometimes I’m safe and 

sometimes I’m lucky, and 

other times I blink from midnight into my bed.

“Not All of Them are Character Studies” (118).

Though they all start that way, don’t they?

With boy parts that dictate everything else about them &

first words I won’t be able to wipe from their forehead.

All my assumptions are true, they always are, until I see

someone too many times to minimize them out of human,

but I still generalize to cope.

Some people prove different, they all do,

I just don’t want to pay attention. 

Black Lung.

someday soon, or 

maybe today, because 

every day my cotton socks soak puddles

left airing out my window.

charcoal breath argues in tufts

a bouquet of white streaming.

my legs quake with the thoughts that come after

and my stomach quakes with the way I wait

for answers. fire burns through twisted paper

a playing card bent and rolled, kisses my lips.

I can hear the wind louder, 

when the window is closed. 

I think clearer about my old habits

the parallel existence of me

spliced by time. 

still head on two pillows

eye mask creased over brow

hands held in the pocket thighs make

my lids twitch with any vibration on layered sheets.

Someday soon, or

maybe it will be today, 

I won’t be able to breathe, because

every day my lungs bruise deeper. 

The Young and the Dead.

No one is too young to die

this fact is hammered

by Kings of Leon’s Joe’s Head.

It’s not his fault, but I blame him.

He is the one screaming

too loud and cracked through the lyrics,

over bass time and drum beats

blasted by his brothers.

Bands are always brothers, and 

bands always break. I’ve heard enough

pool-floating rock star unbreathing stories to know.

Even though I am thirteen and afraid and feeling

a new vortex inside of me that wasn’t there before. 

It’s a black hole. I just learned about those

and now they are everywhere. 

Sucking the life out of everything like a death eater &

I can’t make it stop. 

I fall over and over again into darkness and 

tears mark my face in this sudden. 

It is somber, but not silent.

Mortality is not a thing consumed without sound.

“Had to put a bullet in his head,”

the murdered subject bleeding,

“people can be so cold when they’re dead.”

Maybe he is imagined, but

I won’t give myself this comfort.

I must face the black hole while I have it,

but it spins too close and 

my breathing matches its irreverent pulse, and 

the only thing to pull me out is my mother smothering.

Next time it is a friend with headphones and a heavy arm.

Then a therapist thinks she solves all my problems 

with recycling. Like tumbling arrows will grow 

green over the black hole dilating

like a pupil of nothing at the back of my head.

I grow, even if it isn’t green

and she says different things with different faces

and I pretend to overcome my terror of the nothing

I know lies beyond this now. 

Just Smile.

my friends tell me, 

time and time again,

i don’t know how to frown.

i try, and try again, 

to live this version of the truth

but it tastes worse than suppressing an expression.

even if i don’t feel it, a smile is all

my face knows how to fall into.

i don’t have to feel it to fake it.

what are you supposed to be faking?

what, when you refuse to make anything

outside of a solemn grin real?

He loved me,

this one loves me,

and I can’t force feeling.

He is Cherry B and so many mistakes they start to look pretty.

His kisses linger on the hairs that catch on his teeth

from the back of my neck. They never disappeared,

they were half imagined anyways. How

do you lose someone you only held half the time?

Nothing changes.

Not from this day to the next,

but everything is different in this month.

So different from the last, but

the last was six ago.

Last month I already knew him,

he had nuzzled the same places he used to,

not all- but close. 

These kisses taste like cigarettes, like his

and red bull vodka, like his

and late nights, like his.

But it’s he who drives, pays, and speaks to me

unlike he ever did.

He traces the same patterns on my skin

but my responses don’t match my lips.

He is voice-overs and delayed reactions,

more honesty than I am used to deciphering.

He holds confidence in one hand,

and me in the other,

just like I do. 

He speaks with such power of thought,

even when he is saying nothing. 

Who does he think of in these sentences?

I learn him, I learn his words, and all the while

he is a character. 

I wish I could tell the old him about the new him,

without the question of jealousy

no manipulation or past love,

just speaking to the friend I used to have inside a lover. 

I wish I could tell him

how he rolls a spliff different,

with fingers that curl around my throat 

with too much slack.

How he reminds me of our favorite character

from the show we watched in the late nights

of his constant ailments. He was always in agony.

Why did I still love him? Why do I still dream of loving him?

The only answer is we can’t choose 

who touches us with that thought-erasing feeling.

We can choose who we spend our time with,

but we can’t change how he feels.

We only have so much choice when it comes to him.

There are so many hims. So close to the same.

And only I know the difference. 

“Am I Half Enough for You?” (140).

Can’t you blow off everything to do nothing with me?

If you did, it would make me worry, but if you don’t

I sit here. Cold hands & Cold feet,

none as warm as yours.

Time ticks, like it does in every cliche

and like the rest, I wait here forever. 

Chain-shackled to the blue arrow,

the pointed question I know you won’t hallow out.

Not tonight. And it isn’t fair, is it?

That I ask you and want him. I’d never tell you

but sometimes I close my eyes and blend you together.

I don’t feel guilt because I am in too deep to feel anything.

All I feel is empty, and you try to fill me, but still,

there is a piece of me I lost before you ever said my name.

Half-Love.

I write a lot about half-lives

the way things multiply downward.

A million tiny pieces of what once was,

in these minuscule infinities.

I live in a place called half-hating you,

love is supposed to overcome any emotion,

but it shares my heart with hate.

I used to split love and pride there, but

now I’ve found pride in my bones.

I don’t need to practice it anymore, 

I have a cruel space for hate. 

You and I can’t shake love’s apples

from a golden tree I’ve rooted in self-worth, so

everything else is extra, but

I still crave the party of people I don’t need.

The party of one sad man child

who didn’t love himself enough

to love me. 

Sleep is for the Unloved.

I can’t sleep,

mulling mind over the same boys.

They never give up

never loosen their ghosts in my dreams,

never echo out of my ears with enough force to wake

me out of this static

pre-sleep sleep-writing.

Smearing this pen across this page is the only thing

that makes sense to me. So 

each night I echo the last, I

sign into the same seat,

sit bones slanted across a diagonal ankle.

Chin on hand on right knee.

Left hand cramped from playing with my feelings. And 

I can’t sleep. 

mulling fingers over the same words.

How many times have you read him between my lines?

I don’t try, my fingers curl 

these same letters into each other of their own accord,

imagining if I write something,

it’ll turn true. But maybe I can only write the truth,

the gushing mirrorball of all my privileged problems

at once.

Crowding the spotlight,

crowding the space between brain and hand and there-injected, 

is a memory. His hands rough on me 

because he thought he was going to lose me

when I cycled drunk cartwheels into the street.

He told his friends he couldn’t control me,

like that was a bad thing.

Everyone misses me,

at least that’s what they say into the funnel that drips

accounts of other people’s feelings into my ears.

You were harder, 

you held anger that night, 

and when I woke in the bloody mess you made of me,

I grasped something I never had before.

That love can be violent

love can be anger

and my body can give or take it away.

You used me, 

in more ways than one,

but I always held the power. 

What is the Word Womanly, if not Followed by Influence?

We are posting. Posing & Pouring.

Heart us, and we will crown you good boy,

and give you more of what you look to us for.

You want to open the door.

You want to buy us a drink.

You want us to walk across a puddle on your back.

Because what would you do without beauty?

We are dangerous in our soft

demanding in our bat-eyes.

You have nothing to fear

If you shut up and listen

If you cross your legs and sit on them

If you realize the ultimate majesty of women 

all of us who don’t love you as much as we love each other.

2 thoughts on “Dear Charly Cox,

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