A LOVE LETTER

to the way your clothes smell after a full day:
sweat, almond-scented body wash, detergent—

to the way you cannot sleep without twitching—

to the pale white scar on your left eyebrow from
falling out of bed as a hyperactive three-year-old—

to your middle-child mind—

to the way you sing in falsetto to make me laugh
and the worst part is, it’s not even half bad!—

to the yellow bridges that populate the skyline
of the city where you grew up—

to the God you believe in—

to your annoying tendency to listen selectively—

to the way you can’t dance
and yet choose to dance with me anyway—

to all of the ways
you are—

Names and Trees and Variations of God

I like to go for walks around the manmade pond near my apartment complex and take low-quality pictures of the massive weeping willow that looms over the asphalt bike path. I do this solely for the purpose of curating evidence in my camera roll that I am, in fact, still alive. Sometimes I forget. I think that, in a world like ours, forgetting is becoming more and more acceptable. It feels good to forget. Think about it. There eventually comes a day where someone casually brings up a name in conversation— that name, you know which one I’m talking about— the name you swore you’d never be able to hear without feeling your insides weaken into gelatin, body crumpling into nothing but blood and guts— and then you realize that the name— that name—hasn’t crossed your mind all morning for the first time in a handful of hellish months. Forgetting feels a little like religion. Like hearing whoever God is to you, speaking within the innermost chamber of your heart. Forgetting can make you want to write a sappy love letter to the universe: thank you for setting me free! Sometimes I forget I am a person who will one day, like every other person who has ever been and will ever be, die. So I go for walks with headphones on, blasting the music of my parents’ generation. Sometimes no music at all, just me in my infinite silence, taking photos of the foliage to save for later. These days I like to save some things for myself. I like to remember. I like hearing my name.

FRAGRANT FLASHBACKS

Certain scents— magnolia, freshly washed linen,

dish soap bubbles in the sink— are thieves of peace.

My first love’s coconut deodorant, tasteless cafeteria

food from the hospice where I watched my grandma

shrink from the cancer that killed her, the bedsheets

of a boy who just wanted an excuse to wash them.

When love fades to past tense, when the letters stop 

coming, when I reach out to touch you and only

feel cold air running through my fingers— I inhale

as much of it as I can. Cinnamon. Mom’s signature

perfume. These odd specifics, particulars, fragrant 

flashbacks. Memories float within motes of dust.

Hypothetically, If You Were To Ask Me

if I would meet you under the stars in the garden behind that one historical building where we danced to Sinatra and then cried about the unfair likelihood of a future without each other, I wouldn’t even let you finish your sentence. I’d already be there, a bottle of cheap white wine purchased hastily from a gas station tucked under one arm, shivering in rubber rain boots thrown on without checking the weather first. No forecast of rain. If you were to give me a time and place— Wednesday after midnight in the public parking garage where you often take advantage of the upper-deck night sky views, Thursday at four o’clock behind the evergreens where you first told me you wanted to marry me, Friday whenever and wherever you want— I’d cancel plans to make it there with time to spare. I’d leave my own wedding to dance with you again. To be those stupid, sobbing kids. Meanwhile I flirt with hypotheticals, still humming Fly Me To The Moon, waiting for you to ask.

A Miniature Portrait of 20

Plants, half-alive, guard my bedroom like soldiers

on my apartment windowsill. I have short hair now

and wear extra-large sweaters because they’re comfier 

than the kind in my actual size and I have given up

on giving up my comfort for anyone. An abbreviated

list of recent obsessions: a full moon on a cloudless night,

mango peach-flavored anything, 99-cent mini pumpkins 

at the grocery store on Saturday mornings. I am both

wise and foolish, the contradiction of calling oneself

a jaded optimist. Something you might not know 

about me is that I’ve spent most of my life wanting

nothing more than to die. But I am writing this now

and it’s finally October of the worst year of everyone’s

life, and the leaves are starting to turn and I’m a month

from twenty-one. I track the moon cycles on my phone.

I can keep succulents alive— so far, at least. I’m good

at baking killer banana bread with my roommates

and watching How I Met Your Mother with my boy

for the only God knows how many consecutive time now 

and I think I like living this silly little life, I really do.

When My Kids Ask Me Why I Write

Well, I’ll tell them,

sometimes you wake up and twist your ankle on the way downstairs
before a very important meeting, and later you find out it is shattered
in four different places, and even though you have big things to do
you must sit very still and wait for them to fuse again. Sometimes

you wake up and it’s pouring rain so you make a pot of bold coffee
and read the news and it’s just as depressing as yesterday’s headlines
and so you decide to do something mindless like fold clean laundry
into categorized piles and then the phone rings and you find out

that someone you love has died, and so you stop folding clothes
and start shaking like a stilt house in a hurricane, and you forget
about the laundry and the coffee and the rain, and so you write.

Sometimes waiting isn’t fair, I’ll tell them. And sometimes
you must put the world on pause, turn off the television,
and let whatever is broken heal over, bones hardening until
you are whole enough to move. That’s why I write, dear child,

because sometimes people die and the interstates are flooded
and another church was bombed in a city you can’t pronounce

but you have a pen and a mind and a heart that can’t stop bleeding.

Why do I write? Because

what else would I do with all of this waiting?

To Tell You The Truth

I was banking on forever.

Carving pumpkins with you the day after Halloween,
pulps already rotting, you’d stick your slender fingers
into that cavernous decay and laugh like a serial killer.

I secretly loved it, watching your jack-o’-lantern smile
flicker through slime-covered hands. Stupid kid, you.
Sometimes I loved you so much I wanted to hurt you.

I know I did in the end.

Do you remember our belated Halloweens as vividly
as I do? And our makeshift birthday parties, just us
and two slices of store-bought wedding cake rejects.
Our Christmases, even though you couldn’t grasp
the concept of Jesus and hated commercialization,
how we’d unwrap each other’s gifts and feign surprise.
I liked to trick myself into thinking you knew me less
than you actually did. How it kept the mystery alive,
kept you intrigued enough to keep undoing me, but

to tell you the truth

I was banking on forever.

I still don’t know how to Halloween
or holiday or pretend that I don’t wish
I still did.
It’s almost October and if
someone were to peer through my skin,
they’d find that nothing glows, no light,
just a faint flicker if you trick yourself
long enough to believe in ghost stories.

September, In My Head

will always bring back visions of my body, nearly nineteen, 

crumpled like an old shirt in the corner of a dorm room 

belonging to a boy I thought loved me. Poor girl, if only 

I could scoop her up from the cold tile and feed her bowls

of her mother’s homemade chicken noodle soup, if I could 

finger the coarse knots from her unwashed hair, if I could 

tell her to run from anyone who tries to claim her skin

as their own. September, in my head, is a kind of winter

nothing ever prepares me for, no matter how many pass

before my eyes. Every September, I am eighteen again,

and I’m waiting for him to stop laughing at how small

I feel, weeping hard into purple knees and wondering

what else I must give up to deserve a kiss goodnight.

There Were Good Things, Too

Like that one time my friends and I ordered a pepperoni pizza so grotesquely large it couldn’t fit through the apartment door horizontally and how the slices were bigger than two of our heads stacked on top of each other. I have found that there are perks to the apocalypse and sometimes they look like greasy paper towels and football on TV featuring the eeriness of empty stadiums and lack of belligerent cheering that makes normal feel normal. We’re accidental artists of making the most out of living, even when it’s been seven months of isolation and bad news and unexpected obituaries, when all of California is on fire, when our streets are stained with blood, when right and wrong have blended together until the definitions eventually became horrifyingly interchangeable, when it feels as if the timeline itself has torn at its seams, spilling the guts of humanity onto the fabric of the universe and staining it, when it’s another morning in a broken simulation and it’s far too easy to believe in the cruelty of this world. I want to remember that there were good things, too. Like how we were all here together, feeling the weight of it all on a Friday evening, haunted by old dreams, how we collectively decided, Hell to it all, why don’t we just order a pizza?