a response to a newfound poet and her book, She Must be Mad.
I am on your first page
I am at your precipice &
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
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,
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,
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
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.
“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.
White out for the white man I gave everything.
Everything was a chance,
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.
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,
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.
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.
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,
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.
“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.
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.
If I wasn’t screaming
cursing my mind
cursing my mouth
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?
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,
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.
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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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
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
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.