Polychromasia

The pallor of your skin—
speckled eggshell, loose baby teeth,
as white as the lies you’d leave on my lips.
Soaked in moonlight, you appeared to me
an unreal specter though I bathed delicately
in your heat, night after night. A strange thing
it is, to be desperate and drowning in the ivory
of someone else’s desire. I wanted to paint you
with my color, to douse the sharp contours
of your skeleton with scandalous pigment,
to make you a canvas for my fire.
And so I clothed you in fingerprints
with the intention of staining you gold
until I found myself standing alone,
palms still dripping with bleach.

GREAT DANES AND TEA BAGS

I like to imagine you reading my poetry. It’s almost sadistic, how desperately I wish to witness your pupils nervously flitting from line to line, configuring words into something resembling meaning, occasionally stumbling upon a memory of ours and swallowing hard. I play the reverie over and over in my mind. A blink. A clearing of the throat, then an Adam’s apple following shortly behind. Yes, I’m a little sick in the head.

I like to imagine that the act of doing so is something secret, privately profane, only permissible once she falls asleep so there are no questions asked that you can’t answer. Like why you care so much about what I have to say, or why you have to wait until two in the morning to tediously unravel what I’ve made. I like to imagine you killing time until her eyelids flutter shut before finally letting the glow of your screen suffuse your skin. And then you begin, catching glimpses of your face in every “you” I’ve written.

The images come in brutal flashes. There we are in June, in my car, the wind blowing so ruthlessly I keep choking on my own hair. It’s our seventeenth summer. I’m learning how to drive and I hit every curb. You’re smoking the cigarettes you stole from your older brother which he stole from your dad. You’re laughing at me. You can’t look away.

Tonight, you can’t look away, either. You sink silently into each aching recollection. That time we almost adopted the Great Dane we didn’t have one square foot of space for. How you’d tie tea bag strings around my ring finger, promising me the whole world.

In the morning she’ll kiss you awake and ask how you slept. And you’ll say It was fine. But you won’t mention how stealthily you had to cry, careful not to disturb her peace.

Nesting Doll

I store every small life I’ve lived inside of me like a nesting doll,
layer by layer, each a dreamy variation of the next. Outermost:
linen sheets, the warm glow of summer painting my bare back,
patchouli and vetiver on my wrists. This is the one I wear now.

Crack me open. Peer in. You’ll find a starry universe of becoming.

The next layer— I could never be ashamed of it. It is painted
in the colors of my hometown: the scent of suburban barbecues
at twilight, my first love’s laughter, anger at God in church pews.
Here, I wear fishnets and write about needing to scream in a town
that would never forgive me if I did. I am untethered, hardly there.

Keep going. There is endless goodness within. You will find me
in patent leather ballet shoes, fingertips stained from art class,
innocent enough to believe in the wickedness of calling someone
stupid. I take care of earthworms and I’ll sing every song I know
over voicemails to my parents’ friends. I pray with my eyes closed.

It’s strange to me— that you will only ever touch the shell I wear
now, that you only know me by the perfume I wear, the presence
of my laughter, and twenty years of stories still tragically untold.
Just patchouli and vetiver, sun on my shoulder blades, and skin.

I Am Writing to Tell You

That I have learned

to accept that good things exist

although I know that in your head I am a cynic
cursing our old friends and letting go of the wheel
forcing fate to pick what comes next. And I know
that whiplash and fury are the images of me you’ve kept
and that you remember the ease of which I drained
bottles and bawled the torment out of my lungs
from the balcony and how they almost called the cops
before you took me back to your place and rocked
me to sleep because I couldn’t do it on my own

but I am writing to tell you

that I haven’t screamed in months and instead
I write poems about August and paint landscapes
of the Rockies although I’ve never been and now
I take my medicine and pour my life into letters
that I send across the country and I only think
about you when it rains and never out of spite

I am writing to tell you

that I am getting a dog soon and last week I cut my hair
like I do when someone breaks my heart except this time
no one did, I think I just like change now

which I know is foreign to you because back then
you watched me give myself bruises when he decided
he couldn’t handle my anger and made me walk home
alone and how afterwards I made you burn my journals
because I couldn’t stand seeing that life on paper

I don’t want to die anymore

and I don’t think you ever met this version of me

in the three years I’ve loved you and I wonder

if you are still the most tender person in the universe
like I remember you, holding my hair back
from sinking into the toilet water and weeping
with me when I’d talk about the frozen river
under the bridge and how I wanted to marry it

I am writing to tell you

that right now I am eating leftover Chinese food
because I don’t hate the way I look in pictures anymore
and that yesterday I spun around in the satin slip I wore
the night of my birthday when you called me a goddess
and how I punched you in the stomach, my little liar,
I wanted to hate you for making me love myself

but I am writing to tell you

that I do now.

I grip the wheel.

I am good to my body.

I want to live.

I Will Not Give Up on You, America

because I have seen the cool blue of your mountains
and heard the voices of your children rising to meet them.

It almost feels like enough

until I let the soles of my feet sink sufficiently into your soil
and feel myself become an intruder of a deeper, untold story.

Sometimes I swear I can still hear the dead scream
just standing there, listening to your heartbeat—

red, white, blue—

The dead that built you. The dead you buried.

America, I want to believe in your goodness.

That you are still a breathing, wild thing,
that grace grows apart from your gardens and cities,
that there is more to you than just your wickedness.

Tell me the story.

Read to me so I can help you

rewrite it.

Did You Feel the Rift?

In your last message, you mentioned a brand new record by an artist you’d been getting into recently. 

I think you’d really enjoy it, you wrote. You should listen. It’s just a really transitory part of her life. 

And so I did. But I didn’t like it. 

Maybe that’s just who we are now: two diverging worlds lacking the necessary resonance to tie them together. Separate spheres in distant orbits, damaged electrical systems, signals incapable of reaching.

Do you remember when we formed our own working circuit? When I’d catch the sparks you’d send through the wires and hold them in my hands to admire? We were gravity and music and stars aligning. Sometimes we’d even fire the same pulse down the line, surprised when they’d arrive, how we’d read each other’s minds. Love makes you think in the same language. The loss of it renders you speechless.

The things we shared. I gave you teeth and rage and strands of hair tucked beneath your pillowcase. You gave me a place to rest my head at night and gentleness and skin. What we shared, we loved. 

There was no deviation.

I’m thinking of the way you used the word transitory. The implications behind it, the meanings. 

Were you aware of the shift between us? Did you feel the rift? Did it stun you like a fallen powerline?

Because I didn’t. 

We were who we were until we weren’t anymore.

Until the day I read your email, played the album through from the opening line to the final track, tried to like it, played it over and over until I knew all of the lyrics and voices by heart, but couldn’t.

CLOSER THAN FLESH

You’re tethered to every part of me, 

invisible umbilical cord. I can’t get rid of you. 

I brush my teeth at noon and you’re there, too—

laughing through toothpaste foam and hogging the sink

like it’s all yours, only yours. I trudge home under the glow 

of our flickering street lights and remember arguing with you

about something you’d said earlier that I misinterpreted,

took your joke as a knife in the side rather than what

it really was— an attempt to carry some color to my face.

You’re a phantom limb. You’re the other end 

of the rope and I’m the pathetic tug-of-war loser.

I rest under our tree sometimes and am transported

backwards, to the midnight I first touched you. 

You’re flushed and you’re timid and you paint me 

like an artist. A cheek, then a collarbone, 

then suddenly you’re closer than flesh

and I’m all yours, only yours.

I LOVE YOU LIKE

[a poem in two voices]

Sunday morning, evergreen forests, sacred scripture.

[I wish I had been given the chance to meet you before I did.]

The first warm day of spring, tender peaches, ivory linen.

[If only I had known you as a small, wandering child.]

Crisply folded origami flowers, Christmas Eve, candle wax.

[You are summer and salt and radio static. You make me feel.]

Would you have wanted me back when I wasn’t who I am now?

[Take a wild guess. Look at me. Read the answer.]

But even when I wasn’t me? When I was bad, when I wasn’t—

[Even then.]

You didn’t let me finish. I was far from worthy—[Even then.]

stretch marks

are
winding roads,
proof of survival,
scars from won battles,
fresh paint on canvas,
free tattoos,
sudden lightning,
evidence of outgrowing,
poetic transformation,
stories worth telling,
the body’s way of healing,
of making space for more,
the meaning of resilience,
unfinished timelines,
backyard creeks,
cirrus clouds,
billowing smoke,
shed feathers,
scenic routes,
flyaway hairs,
wear and tear,
graffiti murals,
delicate boldness,
torn veils,
the aftermath of motion,
rips in the fabric of the universe,
a child’s cursive,
shooting stars,
the constellations
I follow home.

Fumbling With the Fabric

for Andrew

Our first month, I wrote thirty poems about him. Eyes— deep sea blue, opalescent, kaleidoscope-like and dangerous. Laugh— orchestral, intoxicating, the kind you’d play forever on a turntable if you could loop it on a vinyl. I wrote them consecutively. On gum wrappers, unused fast food napkins I’d saved for later, the backs of my palms under blooming magnolia trees when I felt the words rustle. I couldn’t go a day that April without capturing, in some small way, the essence of him. It was so new. Palpable enough to hold in my hands, a baby bird in need of tending to. 

And then they slowed. The words cooled over, became gelatinous, stationary. I feared, for a while, that this reflected what we were becoming: sedentary, passionless, exhausted. I have the tendency of attaching love to the effortlessness with which I write about it. Other matters began flooding the page. Childhood. Sadness. Buried heartache.

When poetry dies, does love die with it?

Sometimes I weep for that April because of how alive the world was to me. It’s addicting— the electricity of having a brand new set of firsts to domino through, knocking over each piece until you end up at the core of a person. You fall in love with someone’s tenderness. And then the comfort of their skin. And then the entire tapestry: secrets, stories, sins. I weep for that April because I miss fumbling with the fabric of him.

But poems live everywhere. They live on paper and on screens and in the way we clutch each other’s frames through tornadoes and panic attacks and days that wound. They live in slow dances and long distance phone calls and in the moments we overlook, where I’m watching the faces he makes while comically singing falsetto in the car, nearly moved to tears.

I think I like these poems better.

The ones that squeeze back, that make noise, the ones where I’m sitting in the passenger seat making him laugh by reaching for Whitney’s high note and failing pitifully, watching the redness flood his face like water.

How that, too, is its own poem.