requires no great pilgrimage
nor any red-eye flight to book.
Upon arrival, there may not even
be an altar on which to offer
what is owed. Holy ground
is wherever you leave your love.
So every public bathroom stall within
which I have grieved into my hands.
A certain Catholic church basement,
still haunted by the sweaty magic of old
friends long gone, the dark wooded backroads
of my native Virginia, the humid shoebox room
I occupied my first year apart from childhood,
grimy twin XL and cobwebbed window panes.
Holy ground is wherever love finds you again.
The back stairwell of the dilapidated classroom
building we accidentally followed last February.
The bus stop where I first kissed you, feeling
it was right. And now, these short walks home
after the sun has set and I, drunk on the peace
of easy evenings, still feeling as right as the first
night I felt it. Holy ground, these moonlit paths
I walk alone, wordless, basking in starry stillness,
this sacred earth something we now share.
You are the byproduct of your great great great and maybe
even greater grandparents’ first kiss. In the equation of history
you are the long-awaited answer. You transcend all laws
of mathematics. Their history bent you into existence.
Consider it for a moment. You are only here because
one man saw, from across a train platform or mossy field
or crowded ballroom, a strange beauty with a flicker
lodged in her eye. Don’t mind if I catch it, he told himself,
and he did. The possibility of you— conceived in the rash decision
of a moment. Now you have her eyes, same unusual twinkle,
the fruit of the great pursuit. Yes, you were born before your mother
dedicated your body to earth. You were born, instead, in the instant
of the first chase, the swift clutch of a hand, the rush of blood to the face.
Think. If not for the speeding train. The field. The ballroom and the girl,
still a stranger, the mumbled-under-breath Don’t mind if I catch it.
Then— the universe caught you. Forever the echo.
Forever the beginning, you have always been.
is my kind of world.
Hardly matters if a surprise downpour decides
to grace my walk home. I’ll face the sky’s burden
with wet clothes clinging to small frame. If I run
out of words to write, books to read, candles to
ignite and sit by, if I wake up one day and cannot
locate the face of a girl once young and incinerating
with the promise of potential, if I burn the batch
of whatever bakes in the back corner kitchen
of my mind, if all the mighty doors of opportunity
I try to knock down come ricocheting back in my face,
if I arrive home bruised and battered from having
misplaced my heart, if some days feel more like
the freak accidents of existence and less like
the first days of warmth after a frozen season,
a world with you in it is still
my kind of world.
I’ll weather any storm to meet you there,
right there, at the collapse of it all.
Sometimes helicopters fall with fathers and daughters still inside of them. And at the same time there’s some sort of virus hanging in the air making fear point its ugly finger. Who is responsible for this? What wretched nation, what sick corner of the world? There must be someone tampering with the wires. And while we’re at it, what sort of madness causes a continent to burn itself dry? It doesn’t just happen. Something always instigates. We mumble words like power and influence and annihilate the enemy the same way trembling mothers mumble desperate prayers under war-torn skies. A child who has never known love considers the trajectory of something illegal hidden under an overcoat. No one yet knows how many hearts he’ll break today. Down the street a young ballerina refuses dinner for the fourth time this week to feel pretty under stage lights. She imagines how beautifully she’ll glow tomorrow by turning down another slice of fruit tonight. And somewhere in a city I’ve never been, someone called Dad stands with sunken shoulders at the cash register of truth. His pockets are empty. Tonight the children will feast on hope alone. Still, none of them will ever see him cry.
Who is responsible for this? Could it be fate? Reason?
For my own sanity I choose to believe it is not all tragedy. There is still the inevitability of springtime in world as broken as ours. Someone will spare bread to the children, those rail-thin dreamers raised on street wishes. Someone standing with one foot already off the bridge begging destiny for a sign— just one—will see it, from the opposite side of the bay, some sort of green-light savior. A bird taking flight. A vision of Jesus. A memory of a first love. They will inhale the stuff of life and swing their shaking knees back over the safety rail. Life will continue, just like that. Just like morning comes. Just like night falls. There will always be someone, hunched over while the world sleeps peacefully, untangling the wires.
It is hard living on the edges of things. Try building a home on the precipice of a cliff. Tell me you wouldn’t live in constant fear of a sudden tectonic shift. I have learned that, when the body needs to be held, it makes a big deal of making sure the need is known. The body demands the security of a tender touch. Perhaps this is why, trembling outside your front door this morning, I felt my heart pounding straight through every insulated layer of my winter coat. I swore the buttons would snap, that my insides would spill out all over your steps, my pathetic need collecting in human puddles at your feet. I have learned that, when the heart needs to be tended to, it cannot stop itself from screaming. It is true; the heart never grows up. It is born young and stays young, a perpetual infant forever in need of being held to another chest. The heart cannot live at the edge of love. It is driven to madness by the need to be pursued. This is why, when you finally opened the door, my heart pacified. As if it knew yours would steady mine— no shifting, no need to scream, no cliffhanger required— just you and yours and me and mine. Try building a home in someone else’s heart. Tell me you wouldn’t live a little easier.
That smile— when it’s almost midnight
and our best friends are belting in the backseat
our bodies full of greasy pizza and hysterics
when it’s a Saturday night and we’re as young
as the first day of a new season and we’re
the closest to comfort we’ve been in days,
I see it plastered on your face— that smile,
as if it never left. So I shut my eyes to save it,
just like that. My heart could fill a gallery,
a whole museum, of all the ones I’ve kept.
today— only labored breathing. I have worn
this body limp, my heart a hollow cathedral.
Know this much. Today brought no spectacular
revelation. Instead, I crumpled and wailed
over how complicated the mind is, how love
cannot always suffice in navigating its mazes.
Where do I fit in your world of worlds, sweet
thing? Is there still space for my bones to rest
in all of your worry? I cannot write without
knowledge. I do not dream without security.
I must know— is there a bed still made for me?
A place set at the table? Do you still see me
there, kissing you under tomorrow’s skies?
Know this much. You haunt me in every vision—
under summer’s moon, at the end of every aisle,
smiling crooked in wildflower meadows and greasy diners.
There is no way to stop this reckless way I love you,
this wild, broken prayer, these empty hands from searching
for you in the dark. I will sleep restless with my words until
your heart calms enough to find me again. Know this much:
I will write my way toward better poems, a better you.
Maybe there we will finally sleep through the night.
Remember me happy. Remember me a giggling wild thing nuzzled into the freckled bend of your elbow. Remember me dancing, mandarin orange peels in both hands, under the soft overhead light of your apartment kitchen. Remember me flailing my arms to our song in your car, embarrassing you silly in front of all the others waiting for the light to turn. Remember me chasing your little cousin in that suburban driveway, spawning into a monster of his imagination just to hear his wicked childish laughter fill our air. Remember me so in love with you I could’ve died right there, having lived a full life with nothing else I could dream of needing. There was no poverty with you.
It might not be. It most likely isn’t. But if it is,
remember me sparkling. Remember me spinning in that dress for you, all satin and magic and woman and alive. Remember me cracking jokes with your brothers at dinner, the first summer I met your parents, that April I first wrote of you, for you. Remember me in memories of my kicked-off boots at your front door, my seventh heaven dive under your covers. Remember me intoxicated by hope. The very first time I kissed your cheek, my nineteenth springtime in full bloom, how the pink rising in your face competed with everything blossoming around us. Remember me richly yours. Remember me happy.
I begged God for your pain.
I said Make me your first pick.
I raised my eager hand for the choirs of angels.
I wept Give it to me instead.
I pleaded Him to make me a tabernacle for your hurt.
Take a swing at me. I can handle it.
I might be a trembling beady-eyed little girl with hardly a body left to hold
hardly anything magical inside of her anymore maybe just degraded by life
in more ways than one maybe just blood and gore and twenty flammable
years of breaking down in church pews and shaking her fist at a benevolent
God— too much fire in her soul too much evil in her holy mind— that girl
would kick Satan in the face with the bottoms of her sneakers for you
would make you mad make you proud make you whole again
would do all of it again in a heartbeat in an instance in a fit of rage
if there is this much hell inside of her
she can be the one to keep yours away.
I can handle it. Take a swing at me.
were to walk straight into the marrow of my life,
I’d tell him to leave.
Pack your bags, walk backwards out of that door like a movie played in reverse and back to whatever fairy tale you managed to escape. I want nothing to do with perfect. Spare me the drama of happily ever after. I wouldn’t want the perfect person if the universe had measured him for me. I am light years away from sainthood.
I want everything to do with you. You and your aching and your real and your raw. You and the wetness dampening the apples of your cheeks. You and the lawless way you crumble, how you shatter in my hands. You on a Tuesday night when our world unravels and we have no language, only bodies that can somehow, in spite of the odds, still weep and dance under flickering lampposts. You when you dance with me anyway, when there are no words left to say, no words we can find under any sort of light, only my head on your chest and no music other than trust, trust, trust. You when, out of the both of us, it is only your heartbeat that can still speak.
Yes, I would tell him to leave. This heart is only for
you and your sick and your sweat and your grief. You when it is easy and when it is hard and when it is beyond all feeling, when we have to trade emotion for knowledge, when we do not know what tomorrow will bring but choose to stand there, 20 degrees in the middle of January, with arms wide open and nothing left but love to carry us through. We are not saints nor perfect martyrs. We are two shivering shadows in a world beyond explanation, clutching onto something as holy as hope.