The morning birds sing sweetly into four ears, their owners my charge and me, listening together with two words to describe the artists. I say bird, and Victoire says oisseau, but we both agree that we love their sound. “J’adore le chanson de la matin.”
Her tiny legs wrap around my waist as she takes her perch, and I take us through the slow-swung gate to school. Here, she greets her friends, Brune, Leon-Paul, et Margot, as they hold their parent’s hands and greet me with “salut la nunu de Victoire.”
“Bonjour,” I say, “vous etes pret pour l’ecole?”
“Oui oui,” they say reluctantly, slipping out of their jackets and reaching high enough to stuff their scarves into their cubbies.
I give Victoire a hug and an “au revoir, I’ll see you later,” before I leave her, waving once more through the window, then I am all mine again. At least for the next six hours.
At this nearly nine am moment, I always debate my immediate future. The promise I made myself at seven to return to sleep seems less important now that the sun has risen. Perhaps yoga, a happy medium between the meditation of sleep and the rising crack of tired bones saluting the sun, will take its place.
It is this peace that I missed during my time in America. This soft entrance of sun passes through my window and yellows the wooden floor under my pink-striped mat.
Downward facing dog folds me into two sides of a triangle, then a chaturanga into an upward-facing dog pulls my heart through my planted hands.
A few warrior flows later, I bend over my folded knees and press flat hands into each other for a namaste.
Now it is time to check the bus intervals, which one arrives in which ten minutes, and I pack my ambitions into the yellow side bag my mom gifted me for Christmas. I choose my French workbook, throw in my Virginia Woolf, laptop, and notebook.
Arriving in five minutes
and the station is a three-minute walk
but does that mean from my room and down the stairs
or from these floating coordinates to the next
and by that time, will the bus be passing or stopping
in this delicate interval.
Like the negotiations of a love affair
I don’t want to be too early, too desperate,
left in the cold, waiting.
And what if it doesn’t come?
Or it stops too long at a different stop,
and I look a fool for counting
on the virtual promise it tells my phone.
I can’t trust anything behind a screen.
What lies my apps believe.
What time stamps pass with minutes ago that never came.
So when I dress and bundle and pose,
and the wide window winds the corner
I sign in my cold relief
and raise my hand to say- take me! Yet my chest still tightens
until the doors stop rolling and open
just for me.
I flow through a dozen or so pages of Mrs. Dalloway as the bus rolls through the twenty-minute ride, and as always, I jolt up at the last moment when I realize the mass of people descending past me.
Republique, the center stop of Rennes, swells with the crowd and observes bursting flocks of birds that fan out like open arms and circle above.
While this crowd walks in universal black jackets, I miss the bright orange puffer I left in San Diego. Today I don my yellow race jacket, the left breast labeling me correctly with “Maxwell” under a yellow car patched over a neon orange stripe as a callback.
It may be conceited, but I cannot help but derive pleasure from the clinging looks of passers-by. I suppose that is my downfall, wanting to be seen in a crowd, yet I also believe it is my power. Without this desire, my life across seas would be exponentially more frustrating.
There are plenty of people looking when I settle in and open my French workbook.
They say that when you begin to speak another language, you start to develop an alternate personality. Not entirely, of course, but you are not quite at ease as you are in your mother tongue. Thus, you pay more attention to what you say and what others say; you don’t act and react with nothing but that single and between them. You pause, think, digest. You speak, however incorrectly, with more intention.
A friend of mine tells me she likes her English personality more; she feels sweeter, more endearing with her words. For me, speaking French means experiencing social anxiety for quite nearly the first time.
This foreign feeling hovers around my lips as I speak a word, and worry I will not be understood or seen as rude for the words I blurt out unexpectedly. It is a strange one, this feeling, and one that I am grateful for experiencing.
Before entering France and trying to live among the French comme ca, of course, I was sympathetic to the plight of immigrants and foreigners, but it was the type of sympathy that hollows without understanding. Not forming into arrogance or disdain, but in a dismal overlooking of the intricacies and everyday difficulties that face those living in a country that speaks their second language (or third, or fourth).
Since arriving here, I feel the gravity of every interaction. I notice conversations in a way I never have before. I appreciate everyone who speaks with me with love akin to that I feel for my friends, even if it is simply the girl at the bus stop asking me if her bus has passed or the person sitting next to me with a tattoo I can compliment.
I feel like a child, and everything is brilliant and bright; it can be glaring sometimes, but it fills me with an unquantifiable wonder. The whole world extends beyond my fingertip in colors I have forgotten vibrancy in.
It is a new world, unlocked inside me just as much as it is out.
I only wish my love for the language meant I could learn it faster, but alas, the world is still the world, and my intelligence measures the same in France as in America.
The World our Mind Conceives.
Are we infinite in quantity, and
is it in quality that we deplete?
Are we thus lessened by our lessons
the lectures we copy through eyelids, and
do the synapses snap ancient electricity
trading the colors of that one unimportant Fall,
for the words that make this one
in parallel life.
Tell me if it is true,
that memories pixel from HD to SD
each time we take a new face
and hold its picture inside.
And if this is true, are we different models?
Do some of us come with more storage?
And as babies, we lie there,
crying because all we have is empty space
and we are hungry to have enough to choose what we keep.
But then, do we have a choice
what has and holds us?
What haunts us in new dreams we remember
in faces that burn into our brains?
Does it take us til 80 to run out of space? And for some
is it earlier? And only then there is too much
and we record over parts of ourselves,
sacrificing our grandchildren’s names
for our father’s smile, but starting
with an x over yesterday
and a perfect transcript of prom.
Or, somehow, is the mind simply a home
filled with furniture we’ve built or inherited,
creaking frames that sound but remain soft,
warm and known as we sink deeper.
A cafe, latte, and croissant later, I have scrawled my mind through more than my diary and close my eyes to the headache my French practice invites.
Before long, it is time to return to school and my Victoire. The 3h35 gate opens with a hum, spilling forth with children hungry and excited to return home.
Victoire asks me again to carry her home, and I say yes because she is a free weight at the gym I conceive through my day.
We walk through her day, coloring between stenciled animals, carrots at the cantine, and cache-cache with Leon-Paul while I pair her sentences with their English counterparts.
She asks what I have done, and I continue this balancing game, finding the quality of English she will learn without crying and nodding through the exchanges we have that live on one side.
The crowds swallow the street in tufted beanies and wound scarves, hands plunging deep in puffer pockets while chins tuck into the wrap of their necks. It is cold, but there are presents to purchase.
Wooden stands make two wide isles in front of the white-painted Ferris Wheel and mingle pottery and jewelry with sugar-stuffed churros and vin chaud. I look over the artisan spreads next to everyone else with an open mind and a closed wallet. I have neither the space nor spare change to pick up stray beauty, but it’s fun to hold rings and ceramics to the sky and play into pretend consideration, isn’t it?
(I won’t lie to you; I did give into a bright pink beanie. Though, in my defense, it was cold, cheap, and cute; a kryptonic trio.)
My crew shuffles through the wide eyes flitting between passing fancies on our way to the imposing wheel. Five euros each buys us a place in a small box car rotating three times slowly before the inevitable dismount.
From this angle, the city expands, but away from Rennes’ central buildings, there is not much to see beyond the bustling market immediately below us. The nearest intersection sighs with the crude exchange of cars and exhaust, hot tufts in the air. Clashing against the cold, a shade or two denser than the warm breath that escapes us.
Feet on the ground once more, we take ourselves to L’Arts de Fou Marche in front of the Rennes’ Opera Theater. Here, artisans of tactile art line a long loop of sculptures, jewelry, bowls and cups, and installation pieces. All these leading softly into a tented pavilion for the quiet consumption of wine and beer. The art relies heavily on animal shapes and nature’s form broken from the canvas of raw rock.
Impressive in every sense of the word, but expensive and regrettably reserved for the high class. The only place I can picture these pieces is in the grand and cold entryway of a mansion inhabited by whisps of white. To be looked upon and appreciated by everyone but its owners.
Just another three minutes away takes us to the most Christmas-heavy marche in front of Rennes’ parliament building.
A larger-than-life Christmas tree stands, somehow, dressed decadently in red bows and reflective globes. This pop-up center sticks to the food side, selling crepes, churros, and pastries alongside metal pots of vin chaud and hot cider.
With my hot cider in hand, we crowd around the handmade tables of stumps and logs that surround the larger sapin. It tastes of cinnamon and closed-eye inhales on Christmas. Gloves are replaced by the heat of our paper cups, and we look at each other through the steady wisps of steam that rise from the rim.
The cider settles over the lunch we shared before exploring these marches. This morning we met at a restaurant called Avec, a fairly unassuming name though it still subtly begs the question, with what?
As I entered the surprisingly American warehouse structure, I realized they worked with every auxiliary business they could fit into their overwhelming hipster aesthetic. Don’t get me wrong, the turquoise and burnt-yellow shaped furniture and displayed motorcycles cradled an atmosphere that was anything but tacky.
Yet, including a tattoo parlor, barbershop, merchandise shop, and auto-moto workshop in their bare metal restaurant undeniably draws the image of a 2014 man sketching graphite over his black notebooks, sipping teaspoons from small cortados. I could almost see him among the crowd with his nondescript face, which did nothing but bring an amused smile to mine.
Avec’s food and beverage side mixes cocktails and burgers for brunch before offering an ice cream bar for dessert. I inhaled my homemade fries and burger without guilt; it is the holiday season after all. Besides, I might as well take that first step back into American culture.
Each Saturday, vendors by the dozen drive their trucks and trailers to Cesson’s old town center. They open their pop-ups to the waiting crowd of weekend shoppers that disperse, filling each row in the Church parking lot.
Families stride along the older generation’s wheeled sacks with paper cups of espresso and the tin foil that rounds galettes. This Brittany staple is my first objective upon entering the colored maze.
The rye flour crepe is flipped and wrapped around a saucisse with your choice of mustard or ketchup. I opted for mustard, obviously, and exchanged two euros eighty for my breakfast.
It only took a few minutes before my gloved hand was unwrapped and replaced by the warmth of my galette saucisse.
Biting through the layers, I wandered shop to shop, quickly realizing that though the market certainly covers the expected assortment of vegetables, fruit, bread, coffee, meat, and your other weekly necessities, it also hosts a vast array of ulterior vendors.
These sellers propagate their stands with everything from locks to scarves and a/c units to handmade cutlery.
I walked, in wonder, thinking about the assortment of lives that must exist behind each tent and trailer.
We do the same.
See the same,
Talk the same,
Breathe the same.
The same people greet us, don’t they?
With the same assortment of coins.
I wind violet scarves around dainty necks
and these pale-faced women reflect
pretending like they want to take them home
this week, or maybe next, though really, they shouldn’t.
I stuff their husbands with stuffed sausage,
stabbed samples in not-quite-the-same size,
and they act like an absence of splinters would change their mind.
We do the same.
Stop breathing the same.
Choke sounds the same,
The same eyes fade before mine, don’t they?
When I’ve sufficiently stalked the most interesting perimeters of these pop-up shops, I cross the slow-moving street. Opposite the market’s occupation of the old church parking lot grows a lush garden of flowers, even in this Winter’s early days.
Pink bursts in roses and green vines wind their way down the manicured maze that tracks visitors through each end of the garden. I let my eyes wander this landscape, pausing on purple and fluttering over yellow flowers. I found my favorite space nestled in the marriage of two stone walls, just beyond a row of trees that break for a full view of the garden’s expanse.
The wind’s lagging gusts set the pace, and I finish my saucisse slowly. Despite the cold, I am in no rush. I only have one more Saturday market before I break from this French alternate life and return to my America for nearly a month.
It is bittersweet, splitting my heart between what I know and what I’ve come to know. I don’t know how it will feel, but I do know part of me will stay here—nestled among the fleurs and arching arbres of this French fantasy.
It’s so exciting, isn’t it?
Laying your new silhouette over your old outline.
Seeing what parts of you still fit.
Maybe you will feel the same as you always have.
Too big here, too small there.
To everyone else, you look the same. Beautiful, even.
But you’ve outgrown this box of beauty.
The word means something else now.
You know too much about yourself,
because now you know nothing.
You know too much about this place,
because each minute change slaps your skin
like a new floater on the glass of your eye.
Everything hovers, holding same
by holding the nature it never quite stays.
Like a city can get botox,
self-tanner on the same performative parts,
Angelina’s leg buffed and bold.
You see this now, as you saw it before
and the same sad sticks to your wave-washed feet
salt for the wounds of constant summer.
The sun reds your nose rather than the burn of snow
Not unlike Johnny Cash, as he sings, “ I keep the ends out for the tie that binds… I walk the line,” I walk this tightrope without slack. I’ve already cranked the dial, bit by bit, consuming everything untaught in the years of weeknight poetry groups and the tight art circles of strangers.
Hung low in these rooms was the kind of cigarette smoke embedded in the fabric of suburban kids’ trench coats as they all sing their hymns of too much and too little in the wrong categories.
Here, in the anonymity of a crowded room of the like-minded, I shed the last scales of self-loathing and read it into the past tense.
There are so many ways we are ourselves with the people we love. They are all true and carried and backed by watchful eyes that back your own out of authority. How many times can you break bones and find something different in front of the same people?
In the 2019 first freedom of dorm room homes and month-long family, I broke into new poses of myself countless times. My roommates heard “you know what I just realized?” more times than they heard the word “sick” tumble from my mouth. It was just as automatic.
This constant phrase changed its ending every time, contradicting its predecessors and followers with the kind of truth borne from this second’s reality. Each break in my brittle bones offered a new way to look at what makes marrow.
Every observation is true, even existing in opposition. That is the value of poetry.
These moments of clarity, spurred thought from another person’s words, or the sight of water dripping that begs a reality from inside you, can be immortalized as any emotion in art.
So as my friends tired of my repeated self-realizations, I spun them into ballads of wavering woe.
These first months of poetry classes, and the new opportunity for spoken word Wednesdays in the 7 pm writing center room, allowed me to pull a new authenticity from myself.
I didn’t have to be the blonde, suburban kid with too much privilege to divert her attention from issues of self-image and intimacy. With these same materials, I could be a voice that walks directly over human metaphors and recognizes the quiet thoughts that whisper in each person’s ear.
I fell in love with metaphors, allusions, hyperboles, conceits, just lyric. Words that can be read in an infinite amount of ways, each time plucking a chord of truth. Like humans, poems can mean a million different things to a million different people.
I became a voice, a speaker, separated from myself, my name, and anything about me except the immovable fact that my mind made these words.
It’s true, what some people say, that most of the time, strangers are the only people you can be completely honest with. I took this expression to heart and wrote from each crevice of my ever-changing understanding of my world.
We try on many different selves, don’t we, when we realize that first permission to make ourselves what we want. When we remember that people only know what we tell them, people only see what we show them.
So I dyed my hair purple. I pierced third holes in my ears with only half the materials required. I stabbed my wrist with stick n poke mistakes that are all mine. I ate the dining hall’s macaroni n cheese pizza for breakfast and drank their black coffee for dinner. I kissed boys and girls and left the party. I apologized and said “I wish” to people who asked me for cigarettes even though I never smoked them myself. I painted blue around my eyes, debuted them at the campus underage bar, and gave them an encore in COM 103 the next morning.
I followed through on every thought that hung around my head for longer than a class period, and then I read the email, and everything changed because I felt I couldn’t anymore.
Covid stole my dorm room home and new-friend-family. It stole my unencumbered realizations and my poetry evenings and everything new I had begun to call myself.
But, in the shelter of my old room, I continued to write with the self that now dominated me, and I hurt people.
Instead of calling strangers closer in rooms that called words home, I tugged on the heartstrings of my original home with words that family felt rejected every good thing they ever gave me. Still, I selfishly refused to give up the part of myself that reveled in the honesty that poetry allowed me without focusing on the facts that surrounded me.
Emotional truth is real, without needing physical fact to bolster the feeling.
Time here passed, somehow, and we can still debate whether or not it’s over. Both are true.
I wrote myself through another two years of English classes, poured my soul into poetry workshops, and earned practical credit in marketing courses. I presented a thesis collection based on an ancient religious poet and my conflicted feelings for my ex-boyfriend. I heard enough praise that I held no hesitation in creating this blog space for my self-indulgent travels and self-promoted poems.
I love it. Having a place to post thoughts I can no longer subject to whatever unfortunate group is trying to relax in my living room. But with this kind of platform, I have lost the complete anonymity I am used to.
I write for no audience, then send my words into the ether that is truly, if we want to talk about objective facts, made of friends, family, and followers who know my real name.
I want to be completely honest, but I am not used to hurting anyone but myself with my words.
I am running. Face twisted with concern, yet with each step the muscles find slack. I thank the border control woman in every language I know.
I showed her my train ticket fifteen minutes ago, and without her kind decision, I would still be standing deep in the inching queue, sweating inside instead of out.
The officer who stamped my passport didn’t even meet my eye, pressing ink over my niceties, and I didn’t mind, not if he let me go.
I slide through the train’s chomping portal with mere seconds to spare and swear I can feel the metallic bite of air behind me.
I have been traveling since 3:30 am this morning, and my day’s journey is not yet over. Planes, trains, and automobiles, so the story goes, have carried me across the kiss of Anglo-French air. Now, my body can rest beyond another transfer as I sail over iron tracks on my way to the next station.
I have not slept, but the weekend was worth it.
Can you still miss your train if you can see it leaving? You can’t miss something you never truly had. You can hold this idea of a train ride, this ticket stub of intention, but reality was all too real for a dream. Your real steps couldn’t keep up, not with the way your fingers flicked through each screen. You don’t have to slide plastic through its arrowed cousin anymore. Memorize the numbers on your credit card, so you can keep charging yourself for things without touching them. You can toss your money to the wind without rouging with the sting of scattered coins. You don’t have to feel something to wish it was yours. But typing a thing and doing it are not the same. I would know, I miss your train every time.
My long weekend in Cambridge came unexpected; an Instagram message from an old friend turned into a real plane ticket, crossing our ironic European proximity.
It must have been four or five years since we had last seen each other, and never without the family context of PC childishness and parental supervision. But we aren’t children anymore.
Seeing her was melting a younger (older) version of myself into my skin, rediscovering a girl with stories and jokes long forgotten.
The two-hour drive from Heathrow to her home just out of Cambridge was filled with endless chatter and a spinning web of memory. We tied 2010s trips through the California-Nevada desert, filling in each other’s gaps and planning our next-day hello to the larger city.
Saturday drove us on the wrong side of the road to Cambridge’s center. We walked the outline of the Grand Arcade mall, took lattes for takeaway, and indulged in Nando’s peri-peri before meandering our way to the city’s botanical garden.
Fall had crisped green into orange-yellow and scattered this over evergreen grass in nature’s layers.
We abandoned the map’s predetermined path for our own, dipping into the damp greenhouse to see tropical plants wind around each other in humid reflections. Baked by the focus of sun-lit windows, we traced plants from each part of the world until the archway released us. Outside, the simple grounds of the garden’s deepest boundaries came in shallow hills swelling in slight curves as the dirt-carved path snaked through trees and around flower beds.
The mild day cooled us enough to pull jackets back around our bodies, and by 3 pm, we had finished our tour. While we departed, time set fire’s arch, keeping it until the next morning.
This time a friend of a friend was behind the wheel, and we parked at the Grand Arcade, over-indulging in tights and knit sweaters. Soon my caffeine headache dragged us to the TikTok (and city) famous Fitzbilles for their highly-praised Chelsea buns and the cold coffee ordered only by Americans.
We unboxed our buns on the way back and stickied our fingers with the maple syrup that replaced creamed icing on the classic cinnamon rolls we were used to.
Still good, but different. Not as sticky sweet, but coating us in sugar just the same.
You can’t unlove a city unlove the swarm that rounds out its voices different from yours. You can’t unknow the train lines, the rusted bus stops, rain-soaked metal awnings. Cities have veins and we are white blood cells; there are too many of us bleeding onto the street, running out of ways to heal ourselves. It’s not healthy to erase memory, to erase this metro matrix other fingers have lined on your body. Abandoned buildings are still buildings, even when they’ve lost life. You can’t untangle the strands she left on your pillow, not without smelling me. Just as I can’t smell my own sweater, without the threads reminding me I used to love you. I can’t unlove the way it felt to love, even if I don’t love you anymore.
I think about Maleficent’s thorny throne, Phillip chopping through hardened stems, severing rose bud necks, and drawing shallow red rivulets over his cheek, but as we conquer these steep steps, it is clear that here, the vines are nuns and monks, rose buds are stone busts, and their thorns are Christian judgment.
Le Mont St. Michel stands impressive and imposing. Man’s stone on nature’s rock, here, predates the middle ages. It is said that in 708, Saint Aubert, bishop of Avranches, built the first religious sanctuary on the former Mont Tombe.
Ever the saint, he believed that this vision did not come from his mind but from a divine decree, and he was simply fulfilling the wishes of the archangel Michael. Saint Aubert claimed the angel had appeared to him thrice in his dreams, enlightening him to Mont Tombe’s future. This initial sanctuary remained atop the rock for over 200 years until a community of Benedicts built its first church in 966.
It was in the 10th century that construction began on the still-standing abbey of Mont St. Michel, but this period of construction was not completed until the 19th century. Over its 1300 years of history, St. Michel endured the passage of religious pilgrims, a long stint as a prison, an impregnable fortress during France’s Hundred Years War with England, and a return to its initial purpose as an Abbey.
Though Le Mont has held fast to its French authority throughout these conflicts, discourse remains as to which region Le Mont belongs to. Situated between the border of Normandy and Brittany, the island technically lies within Normandy’s domain, but that does not stop Brittany loyals from claiming the island.
What they are having.
I’ll take a toke,
a drink or a puff,
a bump or a smoke.
What is it this time?
What Gods live here?
Are we visiting or being visited
by the angels that lie between tabs of acid?
They must be real
if we can see them in mushroom meals
or drink them in the nature of peyote.
Should we tell them? The others? The ones who believe us?
Or should we keep this divinity for ourselves?
Roll Jesus in a joint and tell them what we remember.
Crush Abraham with the flat of our fist,
he coats our nostrils with his heavenly fire.
I won’t tell, as long as you give me a line.
They can think angels live in the sky,
and we can sit in chapel circles,
passing our God,
telling each other what we see,
denying the reality of darkness,
and calming overdoses of thought with stories.
Bundled in borrowed green and crocheted yellow, I wove my gaze between bus seats as Le Mont St. Michel came into view. Pointed, the Abbey invites the imagination to see stone join sky as the steeple pierces the clouds.
Our first order of business, braving the chill that exits the bus, was lunch. We followed the upward trend of foot traffic, the path that passed gift shops and tourist traps between overpriced restaurants.
After passing on a few 36 euro meals, we found a cute creperie with everything we needed.
The small eatery, Le Chapeau Rouge, fell back from the street and the tight-knit tables allowed for only a narrow squeeze to our corner.
Filling into our seats, it wasn’t long before we were ordering galettes complet to quell the rumble of our hunger. Ham, egg, and rye crepe came quickly, and we ate just as fast, ordering a second crepe for dessert. These crepes au citron shortly followed, and we rolled the bittersweet lemon over our tongues.
the french word for fold is plier.
like a ballerina
they make halves.
gentle fingers crease gentler messages,
papers plie for their envelopes
& flattened batter folds around a metal spatula
i try to bend with this elegance too,
but my hands don’t move with the same grace.
mine graze over sloping beauty
cursive intentions crease pages with an alibi.
my body curls in on itself,
in a c, not a plie,
& all these french faces know
i am not one of their own.
Braving the sea-breeze outside of the creperie, we renewed our hike to the Abbey carved into the mount of Mont St. Michel. Staccato steps faltered over cracks and traipsed through the stoney wonderland of souvenir shops and medieval tourist traps.
Joan, the one of the Arc, stands as a statue halfway up the island in all her romantic and religious armor.
The sole woman among thousands of men, immortalized in this same fashion. The only indication of her feminine figure was the two rounded plates bonded to her chest plate.
Gift shops boast this same Joan in plastic figurines for children, but most flock to the crowded walls of synthetic swords and painted gold shields. Toddlers point with sticky fingers, and parents fall prey to the out-of-town prices.
At last, through the sea of open doors, we reached the Abbey in all its gray and godly glory.
I expected this catholic monument to come colorful and adorned in stained glass light and devoted strokes of paint. St. Michel did not deliver on this front, but as we followed the preconceived order of rooms, I was overwhelmed by the dull gray of its stone. It was rare for color to peak through rudimentary windows, and the bleak ceilings hung heavy without the lift of paint.
The immense building, anywhere else, would be a complete disappointment. Its size and echoed halls are nothing without its perfect placement on the mont’s original rock.
That is the point.
Constructed under the supervision of monks and nuns of the Catholic faith, the abbey lets the island’s natural beauty speak for itself. Unadorned windows are blown open by the ocean’s breath, the payoff of seemingly endless steps and steep cliffs.
Our legs continued to climb, pulling muscle tight with each step and loose behind our eyes as we adjusted to this brand of beauty. Sand, tan and damp, extends infinitely from the circumference of the mont. Waves kiss this intersection and draw their body back out to sea.
Close your eyes and breathe salt, learn what beauty can exist behind shut lids, and smell the simplicity of what the monks call “god’s work.”
Another poetry collection I have been working on for a while, this one is full of half-truths, momentary backtracks, and muted confessions. Trying to love again, in some watered-down way, I write out of that valley in my mind. The dip that cradles new hearts and breaks them, as I continue to patch myself together.
(disclaimer: if you are my family, you may want to skip this one ;))
I feel my figure tracked along the road and I know I am there. Breathing in front of other bodies. When I write, it is for me, my truth & I don’t care to offend other eyes, but still, the thought of others weighs heavy on my hands. Inked words given an end stop, a pause, where I imagine a read receipt at each indent.
You hold this power over me. You know you do that’s why you loved me. Thats why I can’t be around you. I dream of the day you’ll cry and I’ll feel nothing. No pulse will slow and quick. No drawn heart will ricochet in my soul. I dream of this day with my eyes closed, pressed shut so that one day I can see you, and see nothing.
What do I call you?
You go by many names, and baby, so do I. I snake like a poison around my own ears and listen to the city’s heartbeat from an open window. Costar reminds me to “notice everything” and darling, I do. Someone drips their words onto my skin makes love to my lips and touches me with sweetness unmatched by any second-day sugar. I dream of someone in sliding photographs, because I am not comfortable in still frames. Hovering, always writing, over any page.
White lies are only white if the truth doesn’t matter.
Why can’t I stop biting my cheeks? Like flesh pealing from raw lips will silence your circular swarm. All midnight thoughts pull back to what I should have said and what you shouldn’t have. There is no one I love more and trust less than you. The pink skin inside lips and tongue are meant to heal the fastest. So I am always ready to bleed, each time you chew my mind. With every 2am earache, every 3am tear, every 4am conversation between teeth, comes severed skin. You don’t hear the words I scream at you they are in my head but I bear my teeth anyways. Cannines into wet scabs blood until breakfast.
there is another face pulling me when i listen to music a new theme in my soundtrack written away from the name that held too much for too long. but there are too many lyrics about someone else now there is a sweet song sliding through my ears and it builds something new inside me stacking tracks in a direction i forgot was possible. youth has a second coming, i knew it was far from over those vibrating notes were just the prelude. i have albums in me countless plastic photographs to gloss over with greasy fingertips that lie in whatever future waits for me. songs come a few times a week and they aren’t repeats anymore, though the artist remains the same. dark eyes pull me into the present, into this morning city in front of us.
I thought you could be toxic while he seeped into my brain with his own poison, but maybe both can be true. Could your love for me just be a little too much? Enough to see through his bullshit when I was blind. And I need you, toxins and all, to erode all these ill intentions. You are the only one I trust to love me when everything goes up in smoke. I wait for your text, so I can divulge my soul to you. So I can tell you everything I don’t know how to say to myself. I can’t stand it when you are quiet. You sleep, or work, or dance while I roam another city and reach for your love with the stars.
How can we be reduced to a grain of our sand? How do we become defined by our final moments? Like all true stories, there was always going to be an end to your sweet. Your bittersweet cavity moaned loud through painkillers and I sink into that feeling again. It swells, the molasses you left me to drown in, this stick of you to my skin. Sugared sick covering every crevice filling all empty flesh. Then I know this quicksand sweet will become a grain. It must, in time, despite the residue. You- we are a part of me. Still, you & I & we are only a moment of everything.
You aren’t the “he” my diary knows without context, and nothing is life or death anymore.
What would he do if he knew I was writing about him? Would he be colored in red? Or know the impact of his stroke, Know how he lands on me, And how his fingers curl me inside. He wants a playlist, and I want him, Right now, Even if I don’t know for how long. He’ll always be alive in my memory. Exist as a sexy patch of light Illuminating the French ridges of my mind. Filling the space I thought would stay empty here. And am I scared of him or how he makes me feel? Who am I to know.
I would be lying if I said that your affection doesn’t draw me to you or that your free-flowing nights out don’t buy out the fifty percent of my brain that says- stupid girl, run. I don’t know if I’ve ever known I was making a mistake while I made it before. Not like this, not for this long. You are dangerous. But are you really? Now that I think I know you? Do your gentle friends excuse the sharp edge below your steering wheel like I do? Does the sweetness of your thumb on my chin excuse what it does to faces that aren’t mine? I know it is wrong when you throw the first punch, and it makes me want you. You broke your hand because you are too hard, but with me, you are softer than butter. I don’t have to touch you to melt you. Just the heat of my hand begins to break you, but still, you touch me.
You were supposed to be grass under my shoe, Nothing. Nothing but a blade, Fresh-faced and green. Climbing up my boot Caressing my leather until I crush you. But now I’m crushing on you, Looking at the space below my platformed heel, Hesitating. You were supposed to be grass. Beautiful and temporary, Just for the season Then gone. Your last pleasure, the crunch Underfoot.
19 seconds on the clock, and this beer falls down my throat easy. How else are we meant to walk but hand in hand? If I text you twice, will you smile, or cringe away from my name? You make me feel safe, somehow, as I scroll and react. So shallow against your words. I love you. No, I didn’t say that. I just think about you often. You live and lie in my brain now. Just a tiny version of everything I know about you. I am tempted to know you, I hesitate, and want you. Oh, I really do, I want you. I just don’t know about forever.
How many times will I let you feed me lines, and gift you any semblance of belief? You haven’t meant what you said in a year. I dont believe a word from the forked tongue you tearfully split, and for the first time I know it’s true. I dont want to be with you. It took one picture, and in that moment something in me shifted. I grew white hot at the switches flip and here I am finally angry with you. It is all your fault, this hurt. I know it is your fault, because I looked inside myself I scraped every hallow with responsibility, and all I can find of mine is softness. I am too soft. I’ve always been too sweet. I should have screamed at you while I had the chance. It took a while, but I have found my sharpness. The part of me that cuts, and how dare you sharpen me out of understanding. How dare you make me cry on my birthday because you were too weak to bite your lip for one day. How dare you decide for me what I deserve, from everyone and you. How dare you tell me constantly that one day you would come back after you severed us, because you were too scared to imagine us in a straight line. How dare you cut down your own promises, like they were crops only rooted in this season’s reality. How dare you never tell me the whole fucking truth. How dare you swear to me you’ll follow through, this time, and convince me with drunk words that you love me. You told me to wait for you. Not to cry because you couldn’t handle it. And these are things I will never do for you. Not if you ask.
Ahead of Myself.
I don’t think I’ll miss you when I’m gone but what if that’s a lie? What if I’m the one who is falling and your arms just happen to be there to catch me? I keep tracing back to the time you held me. naked and sweaty from our nightly activities, and you just held me. At the time, all that ran through my head was fuck. What the fuck am I doing leading you on like this? It’s cruel. If you just want to be held. But now it’s me who is thinking about it. Why am I thinking about it? On the street, I’ll start smiling, because of something you said. This is wrong, I’m not supposed to think about you if you are not inside me. But I see you, The next day, and the day after that. And I’m okay with that. If I never ran into you at that bar, met you for a second time at Rennes’ universal rendezvous, I would have never said yes again. I was planning on fading, a fond memory, and now I hope to remember you for myself. The man is supposed to miss me, I am supposed to feel a bit guilty, shrug it off, and become a ghost.
When he warned me, i almost died as I soaked cotton crossed and uncrossed my legs, one strewn across his knee now. His hands like my hair, they like drawing loose strands around my ear, and turning my eyes to his. He says he is trying to be good for me, and after our first round romp he stopped me still in the back of his car and held me. He rested my head on his shoulder and did the same. Simple, but not what I was expecting. Soothing our skin with forward fingertips unafraid and unencumbered no thought. On his shoulder lines a dragon inked and ridged as I feel it, and with another kiss, we are all fire again. His hand grips my throat, and I wish I had the words to say harder. Plus fort, I guess, but instead, I place my hand over his and squeeze. He doesn’t want to hurt me but he should I will hurt him.
Do we start our story at the beginning or the end? I write in my pink notebook Like it’s normal at the bar Because it is, isn’t it? Doesn’t everyone write while they want a cigarette? Doesn’t everyone dance this dance? Tongues dance a million languages between us And I don’t know which is yours. Between these and a thousand other tongues I will choose you. I choose you. For now and as far as I can see into the future, Which is never longer than a week. Isn’t that enough? I make enough mistakes in my French to speak to others with assistance But with you I use nothing. I am raw with you, and you try to understand me. C’est pas nécessaire, mais pour toi c’est vrai. C’est nécessaire. Je suis nécessaire.
But is it even that simple? Or is it that feeling, Between my legs Between my eyes and his Between the made beds we untuck And ruin. It’s his job, To be in the dark and on the run And maybe I’m okay with that Because one foot props the door. But then my stomach clenches With each minute he waits to speak And I want him to keep on wanting me Like he does Even if that means breaking him. I cool my conscience by telling him small things, With words he may not understand. Maybe I let this go on, Because I like the way he feels With his hand on my back With my fingers tracing secrets on his thigh. Of course, I like how he feels, I like our franglish jokes with their belated punchlines. The way I talk around the right word And his lips move slowly to teach me the sound. Those lips curl around our words then my lips And he is disarmed in translation. He cannot lie, Or maneuver his words to serve him. There is no mincing between us. He says what he means, and I say it again, Because when do we understand the first time? Our mouths take time to know each other, And our tongues know what to say without words. We are high on his work and my American deprivation, Learning new ways to say it. Exchanging expressions like currency though it’s him who pays for everything. He wants to buy me everything, But I can’t tell if I believe him. I’ve been trained to discredit sincerity, To write off promises, To add disbelief to anything said in love. But why would he pretend when I have given him nothing? I tell him not to pay, Because every coin is charged to my guilty conscience. Because I will leave, you can bet on it.
I have nothing and everything to say to you.
Tears soak into gray on my violet sweatshirt. You still have my favorite one, you wanted it and told me it would be waiting for me, with you when I flew back to you. And I said okay. Because I believed you when you said we would meet again. I left clothes in drawers you cleared for me & I wish I was colder to you. I wish your face didn’t startle me with forgotten contours burn-branded into me. You took liberties, and I wish I screamed at you. But I smiled & everything was your idea. This was all your idea, from the beginning. And I wasn’t angry for so long. For too long my love for you burned so bright it charred the split ends of my skin and clotted the flowing blood for me. Love licked my wounds and understanding numbed the way I never really stopped bleeding. But this love was temporary, just like yours and I still need stitches & fuck you for that. I can’t believe all the ways I let you fuck me. Over & Over & Anyway you wanted. Nothing was off limits for you. I was blind. And so small. And crying. But I loved you enough to choke down the tears I drank them, so you didn’t have to see, but now they are coming back up. Soaked with bile & blood & other indesgressions you asked me to swallow. You’ve never seen me angry. Not really. Its rare, a shooting star, burning through myself, I go cold. Tears fall like ice, I speak slow, through clenched teeth steam whistles like a kettle. You’ve never seen me angry. Not like this.
everyone calls me sunshine it’s in my hair lining my face as the first thing out of their mouths, once they run out of generics. i’m sure there are many of us called sunshine, can we get together, start a club, and talk about what our lovers say to us what they call us and think is original? can we hold each other, bright and breaking the stars of love burning, and the gold that falls around my shoulders can be too much. because firing eyes can cool into ashes, and they will understand this. just for the minutes recorded by our sunshine secretary can we bring a room to absolute darkness, hang our tired arms at our sides and we won’t have to smile. no one has to smile, we can laugh at the literal our favorite color- yellow, and the golden brows that tip the scale of our overwrought imagery. we are not sunny, we are the sun. the burning ball that shows the ones who share our bed the morning.
It’s crazy to imagine someone trying to get over me. Me? Maybe its narcissistic, but I crave to know what it is like to know me, to unknow me. How do I look to the other eye? How does this other mind think over me? This other heart bleeding over my name. I wonder what it is like to mourn me. I used to hate the way I looked, but I’ve never hated myself. Because it’s me. If I don’t like me, I can change myself. Everything there is to hate is under my control. Everyone else is the obstacle. So I wonder what it is like to breathe in the wake of me, and I ponder what must come after.
Am I scared of love again? I don’t think so but how can I tell? I don’t want anyone, but if I feel the spark, that magic. If I felt that familiar feeling I think I would jump again. Broken bones heal, and broken hearts only have so much blood to bleed.
I am sick to my stomach, or at least that’s how my body is reacting to a lazy day with little food. I know you like me. I can tell by the way you kiss places that aren’t my lips. So I don’t know why I haven’t heard you today. Are you okay? Are you running? What plagues you? Because you plague me today. My eyes dart with every flash from my home screen. I wish you would help me quiet you, before I realize I actually care.
I can’t lie, not to a blank page. Though I am an expert at lying without words.
Come to Class.
It astounds me, How we all listen and understand Words spoken and taken. Paragraphs spell out everything But I keep some for myself, With you everything is half. I half know you. I give half of myself to you. And you half understand this.
Is it worse for you to hurt, or to ignore me? I don’t know what to think. I am sat outside a bar, there are pool tables inside, but I only want to play with you. You are somewhere in the ethereal, the dense cloud of ether, connected, or not, to magnets in the sky. But even if you were here, I would still be floating, wishing you were tuned to my skin. You are a placeholder, not my anchor. You aren’t heavy enough to ground my lips to the surface.
You trace your hand between swollen skin and I feel nothing but the warm pulse of life. No sparks fly from your fingertips, its almost like I can’t feel you at all, so I don’t need you to stop. I like cosplaying as your girlfriend, drinking your drinks, smoking your splifs, holding your hand in mine. I rebuke guilt with laughter and rejection, don’t give me any gifts of permanence. Don’t give me anything of permanence.
I tell you I am too young to think about staying, but there are so many ways you don’t hear me. I can see the hope you won’t let me crush. Not completely. I hear you stop yourself from asking something too serious. Something you will have to hear the answer to. Declarations of union earn you nothing but aversion, disbelief and laughter yet you re-itch to ask me for a reason. I stare blankly until you toss your feelings to the wind, and there is fear in me that you will actually buy a ring. Please don’t ask me anything, I could never say yes.
You touch our lips, and it could be a hug. I feel less than when I press against best friends in dim parties. Or the first time he broke skin, and I asked if it was done. Closing my eyes with the creak wood platforms and stuffed feathers. You push inside me and seek more, stretching to touch iris to iris. But when I meet your eyes like this, it feels like lying. Lying by acting out hope. By inviting you to forget every rejection from my mouth, because look how you make it gasp.
When I Grow Up.
Age comes and I believed it when it promised everything I had ever wanted. But the candles burned to their end without needing my permission. With time’s abundant hands the golden thread can be spun too long or too short as it carries you through and moves, independent of our limbs. Then and now is nothing. An invisible wind on a clock ticks a sleeping child older, seeping time into bones. Months can pass in seconds, and seconds can be pulled into eons and these are all just different types of waiting. A lobby waiting room you don’t see around you, until someone calls your name.
Stop fucking your friends.
I wish I could take back knowing you. Because now you are a friend. One who twists my hair around your finger, looking at the contrast. Smiling at my smile, while your voice only queues this mantra I ignore.
Steve Lacy sings “Bad Habit” to me as I wait at the Cesson bus stop to board my near-daily bus to the center of town.
My eyes dart from this page frequently, expecting the C6 Aeroport to be in view. I can’t tell if they are always late or all early, but the bus always exhales in labored exhaust, sometime between the time you waited for and the next. Either way, I board five past and make it to Republique anyways.
I don’t know how long I have kept to this habit of taking iced coffee at Mokka and observing everyone who passes on the ever-populated Rue de le Bastard.
What I have seen these past weeks comes in a few variations.
Overwhelmingly, black covers the shoulders of these Rennes walkers. All ages seem to have an attachment to this base, the young and feminine accentuating with perhaps a pop of color or contrast of pattern.
Among this swarm, new women dress in black tights, either end landing in boots or under dark skirts. These girls don oversized coats, two buttons unbuttoned as each side hangs open on their first layer. Their breaks in black often come in white or tan, basic color blocking for a population that keeps one toe in homogeny.
Cream-colored sneakers see the world from millennial feet as they walk into light creases against the uneven stone. These women wrap their necks in soft cotton scarves and top their heads with the ascribed bennie. Brown hair curls under and into their XXL button-up sweaters, warm and puffed like shag carpet.
I don’t hate it, though they drone on in the same colors, black, cream, tan, brown, and pink, barely distinguishable from white.
Naturally, within any herd of dressers, the brilliant and beautiful stick out, and Rennes’ diamonds are no exception.
For the older generation of women, most of whom are under the universal urge to chop their hair with the same sharp shortness, these feats of fashion come in coordinated color schemes and fabric attention. As they pass, there is a certainty that even their socks match and mirror what they wear on the surface.
In youth, colored fits find my focus and pull me in pinpointed directions to pink floral buzz cuts and wide-legged denim. Their identity hemorrhages from their patterned skirts and oversized sweaters. Legs slid between thin tights, torn and running, while their canvas-bagged shoulders rock back and forth. Earrings hang heavy from stretched lobes and chart empty spaces on their faces.
And then there are the leather ladies, and I do love them. 20, 30, 40-something girls creaking down the street with arms crossed over silver ornaments in black boots, invariably. Their hair is always pinned and pulled, cheekbones leading their walk.
Made in the USA
When she asks what I want, I want to tell her I love the way her nails, dark green and noir, match her drawn eyes. I want to tell her exactly how much I prepare just to hear this question. I want to say the words I mean, effortlessly, with the same loose twist of tongue that comes after I’ve gotten my spirits up. I want to hold on to this moment before she knows my whole truth. And I can’t tell her, not without stumbling, words invariably slurred by my American mouth. I try anyways, but it is too early to tell if she will let me finish.
At times, a young boy strolls by with a matching sweat set in tan, gray, or some other soft color. Most men, on the other hand, stick to their black scripts. They layer t-shirts and sweatshirts, pulling puffers over all of this and ending over black pants that brim their Nike choose-your-own-adventures.
Another look frequents this male population in tan pants and tucked t-shirt. Layered above is a blue or deep green button-up, and over that, a similarly dark sweater. The collar of their ironed blue peaks out from v-neck scoop.
Perhaps, though not necessarily, they don a comfortable jacket and scarf below the rim of their cotton caps. All this over business boots laced up and double tied with stiff hands living outside their week-day keyboard station.
Iced coffee and pen in hand, I turn my pinky to the sky in my version of Rennes’ fashion.
A black base, of course, is worn over my legs in faintly patterned tights and a clingy velvet skirt. I have an aversion to the feel of velvet against my fingers, so I try not to think too much while I snake the zipper over my hip and slip a black and white turtle neck over my head of loose hair. Next, I tie it all away from my face with an orange pop of color. The bright scarf is lined with white strokes that call to their counterparts on my chest.
Secured with four crossed bobby pins, I can fasten the four buttons that fall over my wrists. This final layer comes in a faint cream button-up dotted with a second dollop of cream in polka dots. And, since it is me, my fingers are crowned in gold and silver bands, a brick and a stone of purple, as gold joins the fabric on each wrist.
The remaining hair is tossed over my shoulder as I pull Kyle, Cartman, and Kenny dressed as pirates and vampires over each end of my tights, it is Halloweek after all. Finally, I stomp into my white platform docs and lace them around my South Park secret.
This is my Rennes, or as close to it as my wardrobe allows.
Are they supposed to see through my grin? Past the stiff cock of my head to the side? Or feelings I plaster across my face?
Does my one-handed San Pelligrino sell nativity or betray my naivety?
I dress in color because I live in color, but I don’t have the key to unlock the glass ceiling that takes the context out of everything.
Either way, I can’t stop finding people who want me, want to strip my words away see what body is my truth, like that.
Am I paranoid to think that the table over is talking about me? They must be, either blase or smelling it on me, before I can speak.
Once I open my mouth, wet dog damp and almost alright. Half-way clean, half-way soiled, I just don’t have the soap to wash these abstractions away.
With twenty songs, Taylor over-delivered on her promise of thirteen new tracks dropping on the 20th of October. Midnights, and the extended 3 AM tracks, is one of those albums that takes a few subsequent listens before the full impact of her words hit you. Like all of her music, I hear sung poetry and could spend days in her worded worlds.
On first listen, I can understand those who will make typical comments about the homogeny of the tracks. However, as you press replay and listen individually to each song, Taylor’s genius shines through each complete encapsulation of the types of thoughts that keep you up, keep you dancing, and keep you dreaming past midnight.
If I were to get into all twenty, we would be here all day. So for your enjoyment, and mine, here are my first five favorites.
Paris I wanna brainwash you into loving me forever
Starting with a this-city-is-too-small scene in her first lines, Taylor captures that feeling that burns just outside the static that clings to you and your bottle. The synapses of electricity and nerves that follow you through nights spent betwixt flashing lights and empty alleyways.
Those spiraling midnights that pass without time into 3 AMs without you caring, so long as they pass with the ones you choose to love tonight.
This track inescapably brings me back to those first nights out when I was eighteen with my new friends in Chicago. Drinking cheap wine through quiet alleys, not knowing the difference between this and champagne in Paris. The only thing we need to feel is the embrace of youth that adorns everything in that hyper-sentimentality of now.
And this is what Taylor delivers.
High Infidelity Put on your records and regret me I bent the truth too far tonight I was dancing around, dancing around it
With the knowledge of Zoë Kravits’ collaboration on this album, it is hard to believe that she did not have a hand in the creation of this song. That being said, the most notable similarities between High Infidelity and the closely named High Fidelity, come in Taylor’s use of record-related imagery.
Telling her lover to “put on [their] records… put on [their] headphones and burn [her] city,” Taylor cues her listeners into the presence of music within the relationship she describes. Though “burn my city” can be taken as an instruction to her lover to get back at her by erasing something she loves, I prefer to think of it as a continuation of the record-era imagery.
She knows that her lover may put on their own records and drown their regret in familiar music, but will ultimately turn on her memory. Playing their scenes together through headphones connected to a burned CD implies that these good ‘ole days memories have not been made since we traded music on silver disks.
Bejeweled Familiarity breeds contempt So put me in the basement
This hit a little too close to home. With this track, Taylor perfectly encapsulates the sharp line you walk when you love yourself more than the one you love does.
In her first verse, she sets the tone of the relationship described as she admits to being too nice to her lover, putting them first while she no longer makes their top five. Though she communicates this longing for their affection, she also breaks from any ultimate attachment by letting them know, “by the way, I’m going out tonight.”
As the song continues, Taylor notes that although her lover no longer sees her shimmer, it is still brilliant for her and everyone else. “Whats a girl gonna do? A diamonds gotta shine”
Placing some distance between her and her lover, blinded by familiarity, she tells the men who come like moths to her flame that she “can still say I don’t remember” if she has a man. If he wants to draw her back into the “penthouse of [his] heart” that she desired, he will have to wait in line.
The dichotomy of your relationship with yourself while you love someone more than they love you is hard to express with all the layered nuance and particular quality of self-love, but Taylor puts it plainly. “I miss you, but I miss sparkling.”
Vigilante Shit He was doin’ lines and crossin’ all of mine… Picture me, thick as thieves with your ex-wife
Introducing more characters in her sung story, Taylor depicts an intertwined relationship between her speaker and an ex-husband and wife.
Ending most of the verses and versions of the chorus with a variation of “I don’t dress for women, I don’t dress for men, lately I’ve been dressing for revenge,” she flips the script of the typical dynamic between a couple and a mistress. “Ladies always rise above,” can be identified as the driving theme behind her lines, as she goes on to describe collaborations with his ex-wife. Taylor gives her proof, draws in the law, and gets even, on her vigilante shit.
This inverse, illustrating no scorned and broken woman, or the hysterical mania that is stereotypically prescribed to wronged women, takes on sultry overtones. The slow, vibrating beat swells behind her voice as she sings lines like, “she looks so pretty, drivin’ in your benz,” and “don’t get sad, get even.”
Question…? Does it feel like everything’s just second best After that meteor strike?
When I listen to lyrical music, I most commonly find (or seek out) songs that I can identify direct feelings with. Songs where I can be the abandoned woman, cursing or mourning her inadequate lover. But this time, Taylor hit me over the head with every question I asked myself in those first months of loss. No anger or resentment yet, just questions and imagined scenarios that reply through your mind.
“Good girl, sad boy,” “you painted all my nights a color I’ve been searching for since,” and “did you wish you put up more of a fight when she said it was too much?” Damn Taylor.
There are too many perfect communications of the miscommunications that haunt you as the night creeps into day. The questions you close your eyes and ask your ceiling a million times until one night, you just fall asleep.