after Claire Vaye Watkins
In many ways he is still the same _______ the same blond and tan skin between June and August during swim season the same small hands like a child small stature about my height with a walk that announces itself when it passes. Still that particular sort of Catholic kid charm I don’t know if it’s the guilt he masks under Old Spice Fiji all I know is I know exactly the air he gives off. Too proud too loud but never enough to stop himself from crying in my arms like we did when we were fifteen seventeen he always made me play mother. I should have played girlfriend should have played sophomore in high school but instead I was mother cleaning up his mess mother forcing a smile mother coaxing the sadness from his thin frame I can still feel those golden strands between my fingers. In these photographs he smiles with eyes closed there’s a different girl now and her name is something Asian because that’s what she is I can tell not only from how she looks but because he told me drunkenly that I have given him a thing for Asian girls it doesn’t bother me.
He is always so loud always declaring something from another room always thinking of himself a god of his own right always the one running through the youth group hall with the fire extinguisher screaming Let’s fuck it up with eyes aflame he’d only kiss me on fire in public always someone watching. He never knew how to keep things to himself. Always telling telling telling never stopping. We wore matching promise rings that were cheap metal from Forever 21 to the point where we stained our ring fingers green and the nickel turned burnt orange. What were we promising? I remember feeling proud of my skin looking diseased like that I just knew it meant something. He’d laugh during the rosary with me never at me or the rosary but with me. He was always with me calling me Michelle although sometimes it sounded like Michelle I love you or Michelle don’t go or Michelle why do you always have to cry. Sometimes it even sounded like Mother that word a title he never gave me but one I gave myself over and over as I clutched his weight in my arms let him collapse rock solid onto my chest let him break.
To this day I don’t know who to care for.
Poetry gives me the best kind of stomachache. A brewing storm for breakfast. Or perhaps a flock of migratory geese. It dwells in the throat as a lump that aches. I can’t bring myself to swallow it, though, to simply rid myself of what clogs the airway. I know it’ll burn, acid magic. So I just let it sit there, simmering in itself, arrogant as an heir of my own imagination.
Poetry wounds me. Calls to mind lives and names I have bloodied. Sheds tissue and then wipes my hands of the evidence. It clots. It stings, that raw ache. There is no bandage big enough. Leaves me without a verdict.
Poetry, you are what stops my heart and what resuscitates it. You weaken my knees, ground them in prayer, bruise and batter them. You floor the soul right out of my body; you make it speak.
these days we fall asleep whispering
thank you, thank you, thank you.
and I think that alone sums up perfectly
this equitable arrangement of now:
squeezing palms, Sunday mass,
my putty heart, pliable, yours.
run your thumb over the back
of my hand while the pastor
rouses a homily about love.
thank you, thank you, thank you.
these days the poetry writes itself.
all we have to do is whisper it
over and over, a perfect litany,
that what I hold closest to me
cannot be taken away.
And no, it is not another body
this time, (or any time, really)–
despite the changing seasons
(they arrive more rapid-fire now,
these days more noticeable)
there is one thing that remains
as constant as earth, as rooted
as the branches of my family tree,
as fixed as the sepia-toned ancestors
that hang from the wall in all
of their foreign strangeness:
it is this condition
of being more fire than girl
more distant artist than reliable friend
always more chasing the fever dream
than sitting still with the reality
like I should.
I love that nothing
can steal this from me, this
wild woman magic I write
and carry and spill and bleed
and gift and ruin and become
only for hands that
are deserving to hold this
uncharted, wounded animal
you cannot take,
if I had chosen you instead,
baby blue, in all of your glory?
I miss the thrill of loving
all the wrong people. Wearing
the wrong clothes, tossing
and turning in the wrong bed.
And who would I be if I had chosen
the sinner instead of the saint?
What if everything wrong
was actually right the whole
time? Who would I be then?
Do you think I’d be someone
who could finally fall asleep
in her own bed?
as we speak. we are everything the word elope signifies,
a sticky note on the countertop, goodbye scrawled
in my messy cursive. pooled our piggy bank money
into our pockets, everything we’ve been saving
since the very beginning. we’ve rented a car—
something inconspicuous, untraceable,
as camouflaged as an amber alert dream.
we bring blank journals, writing poetry
at the middle-of-nowhere pit stops,
this one’s about the future!
where you fill up our tank with the fuel
that gets us places, taking turns sipping
from a sticky glass of Coca-Cola,
the sugar burning our throats
like the memory of what we’re running from.
in this world we are never found.
no one ever catches us in the wild,
dazed in a failed dream. in this world
the engine never sputters.
nor do we run out of time
or places to hide away.
we’re just running, you and I,
sometimes I find myself wondering what if
I had a little more bravery back then,
just enough to pack my bags
and run away with you.
light years off the grid.
you swore you’d show me
the tallest mountains. call us explorers
of the great unknown. promised to
tether me deeper, further than what
my eyes could catch when they’d squint
past the locked gates of my childhood
home. the dollhouse suffocated me.
you’d show me the world. be my map.
that, right there, was your oath to God.
you were going to bring me
to the bluest blues, the thinnest air.
yet I find myself wondering.
what if I had been brave enough?
to say yes, take me, let’s leave
under cover of midnight, you
save me from this
wondering where we’d be right now.
probably under some starless sky.
who knows what sort of air
we’d be breathing in.