I need April like I need a dog. No, scratch that. I need April like a full bladder on public transportation during rush hour. Like my life depends on it. I’m starting to think it does. Last April I fell in love again after having declared the entire concept counterfeit and I wore dresses with pink flowers to match the ones budding wildly outside my room. I don’t think I shed a tear the entire spring. There’s no reason to weep in a world that intoxicating. Last April I thought of life as “a great poem”— like, how disgustingly pure can you be?— and I walked around with words in my mouth, beautiful lines to chew on, delicious morsels. April meant skies so blue you could easily mistake them for water and inadvertently drown, sidewalks chalked over with pastel love letters addressed to no one in particular, just whoever happened to walk the path by fortuitous accident. It is okay to be lonely in April. You could make friends with those warm-blooded evenings, faint carousel music, peach pits in the grass. You could worship the mud-stained heels of your calloused feet, the long lost color returning to your cheeks, the flight of birds making their long voyage back home. April is an easy world, a paperback, front porch, twilight world. A dizzy world, heart-pounding world, first-ever kiss on the forehead world. Everyone glows like a kid again, sugar-high on purple afternoons, nectar sweet and liquid smooth down the throat. I need April like I need a reason to fight. Like it’s the last day of the longest March my life has ever known and I don’t think a single day passed where I didn’t cry. I need April like I’m forgetting the feeling of occupying a world that wanted me happy. A world where I wore dresses and believed in miracles and lived that great poem, like my life depended on it. Because it so does. I know that now.
The love he gives me is the kind of love I hope everyone has the privilege of knowing at least once in their life. That kind of love— how he asks me to send him old photos from before I met him because “I want to see everything I missed.” A Sunday kind of love, the type Etta James curls her voice to—classic, soulful, the variety that was still in vogue when our grandparents were high schoolers sharing milkshakes under the flickering neon sign of the local diner. And even before that, when lovers were torn from each other’s arms by raging war. His love reveals itself in purple orchid petals collecting on my windowsill, surprise letters tucked inside white mailing envelopes, walking me home despite my protests, past midnight, every midnight, even in the dead of winter, because “I know I don’t have to. I want to.” I can’t get enough of that heart. It eclipses every other I’ve held close to mine. And though we can’t predict how long this new war will last, though there is no countdown until next time yet, when my body misses its perfect fit, he still whispers, over and over from the other end of the line that connects our voices, “It doesn’t matter how long it takes. I will meet you there. I will.” For now, I keep sending him the photos he asked for, traveling back in time to before us, all the while knowing I wouldn’t return to those memories if the world depended on it, that this life we now share, this cook-you-dinner, meet-my-family love, is the only one still worth choosing, framing, never blinking for even a split second in fear of what could be lost within that interval. I still don’t know how to tell him. He didn’t miss a single thing.
A window can either be a prison cell door or a sunset-catcher.
A clock can either be a death sentence or an old day in labor
to birth a new one. Live to work or work to live, glass half
empty or glass half full. Even still, I live between the lines of
indecision, incapable of picking sides, choosing either party.
Glasses half something, windows both captive and capturer.
This is my only philosophy on life: nothing is divisible by
fact or fiction. Reality is nonpartisan— it is neither this
nor that, blank versus blank, one particular as opposed to
another. The only real reality is the window itself, and even
the reality of that can be tested. When I tell you I love you
it is up to you to decide how. I don’t care how you weigh it.
I just hope, if you have to pick a side, it will be the one I am on.
videos of golden retrievers gentle enough to hold raw eggs between their jaws without biting down, remembering that, to every tiny baby on the planet, the whole world is made of soft voices and spinning mobiles and glow-in-the-dark stars pasted to nursery ceilings. teary-eyed phone calls from far, far away because at least, in spite of everything, we still have this— You hang up first! No, I did last night. Okay, fine. the sound of children pedaling training-wheeled bicycles and yelling On your mark, get set, go! outside my bedroom window, how sometimes childhood still feels accessible from this vantage point, from the same baby pink room I occupied when I was just as wild as them. ancient footage of the year 2000, when it was soapy baths in the hotel sink and marble-eyed gazing at Barney from my bouncer and dimpled hands reaching for bigger ones. how all of this happened before anything bad ever had the chance to, before the days of capital D Diagnosis, before every chapter of hurt and heartbreak, before I spoke the languages of wound and hate. I rewind that gummy smile over and over again, pausing for a moment, wondering if I’ll ever think of the world to be as good as it was to me back then. the whole world, so good.
Poetry without context confuses people. I could, for example, title a poem The Most Tragic Part of All. The first line: This time last year I was falling in love. Someone would respond, “But why tragic?” Besides, isn’t love the most magical phenomenon a person can experience within the boundaries of this finite lifetime? And I’d agree with them, because it is, indisputably and without a doubt. Love is blacking out after a first kiss. At least the love we share, anyway. It’s stupid-smiling all the way home after the first date, and the second, and the fifty-third. Memorizing how our names feel on each other’s lips, lingering even after the lipstick smudges away. Loving you has never been tragic, not even close, yet when I write The Most Tragic Part of All as the opener to a poem I’ve been dying to write, the only logical set of words I can think of following it with is This time last year I was falling in love.
Let me explain.
Context builds the story. In fact, the story itself cannot balance on its own two legs without support. You see, when we fell in love the world was still good. We’d sit beneath the springtime sun, skin warmed by that unmistakable honeymoon-stage glow, and we’d dream of what we’d be like as old people. We’d die just imagining it. Us, old? How alien the idea. In that still-good world, we were immune to time. We didn’t know distance, the peculiar darkening of the sky, being torn apart and stolen from. We were allowed to touch and hold and feel back then. No consequences, just living. For a moment, dear reader, look around. Is it starting to make sense now?
I can’t watch your chest rise and fall from states away. I can’t bring myself to glow the way I used to.I’m forgetting the feel of a world that let me feel it, a world that held out its hand and squeezed it back without fear of what sort of damage the very act of doing so would do.
When we fell in love the world was still good.
And now I pass
Do you understand?
The Most Tragic Part of All
This time last year I was falling in love.
I want to write a book and call it
Things to Do While Waiting for
the World to End. No real plot,
just a grocery list of how to play
tenant to the void. Sit in the sun
for fifteen minutes and hate every
second of letting it caress me. I do
not like to be touched, not the way
I used to, now knowing the body
to be finite. Everything will end,
just as suns set and friendships
die, and how no one really talks
the way we used to, way back when
earth wasn’t barely clinging to life
by a dying respirator. I’m running
out of things to do while waiting
for whatever we’re waiting for,
whether it be a belly-up ending or
a beginning no one prepared for.
Here are some more things to do
while waiting: Talk to God. Plant
a garden. Drive yourself wild by
the things you loved as a kid. Cry,
like really cry, the same way you
did when it first hit you: nothing
would ever feel the same again.
It’s like the night before the first
day of school again, and still
none of us can fall asleep.
When I want to feel young again, I dust off my guitar and perform to the walls like a bored 10-year-old passing time during the summer’s first power outage. There was nothing to do whenever it happened, other than the obvious, of course: peering through the window on my tiptoes to see if the neighborhood across the woods had gotten its lights turned back on yet. I sucked at waiting. So I’d sculpt my delicate fingers strong enough to barre chords— usually dissonant sounds at first, and then something close to music. It was pitch black and I sat at the foot of my parents’ empty bed teaching myself the alien mechanics of strumming, synchronizing my voice with the down-down- up-down. Time takes on a peculiar shape when all you can do is pass it. It’s as if you can feel yourself getting old, sitting in the stillness, baking in mid-July fever. I could feel the indifference of those bedroom walls, sweat pooling at the nape of my neck, and I felt my age. I was one decade young yet I was old enough to feel it—to be a small thing lit up by the rage of something new. Since then, I don’t think I’ve ever felt that indisputably alive. For a moment, summer held her breath and I did too, saving that melodrama for myself.
For every fluid ounce of being known
exists a lake of loneliness, spilling over.
These unholy waters are dark and deep.
Nothing grows in this bleak abandon.
And still the world wonders why some
of us choose to cannonball in. If only
it realized— there is safety underwater.
Being exposed, peered into, examined
and seen— makes a person opaque.
The same eyes that claim to know me
know nothing of me. I fool the world
by forcing the curvatures of my body
into an ill-fitting mold. To be known
in this life is far more often than not
a scam. You know nothing of me, only
my prettiest fiction in its Sunday best.
So of course I am choosing submersion.
I can’t stand being reduced to fallacy.
We’re drowning anyway. The only real
difference lies in the preference of where.
It’s nearing the end of the longest March we’ve ever known and nothing feels real and I can’t get off my phone because somehow it’s permanently attached to my palm. I’ve stopped trying to shake it off. All day long I contemplate the idea of regression and how I’ve never in my life felt less human and more like some extinct primate further up on our cursed family tree. But I am human, and if you’re reading this you (most likely) are, too, which is an inescapable and horribly tragic fact of which we’ve been made painfully aware, at least more so, recently. I know this because I can’t stop watching gory video footage and news reports featuring other humans in makeshift ICU wards in various corners of the earth, how this thing we’re all afraid of doesn’t give a damn if you’re an old man in some European city with a juicy life tucked under his belt or a fifth-grade kid with purple braces and freckled cheeks. It doesn’t give a damn if we’re afraid, either. We’re running out of hospital beds and respirators and doctors and time. The whole world is flatlining. But time, what a foolish, fickle construct, how we’re always running from here to there in our fanciest shoes and fakest egos trying to fill our pockets with shiny, worthless things. Time is privilege for the privileged. I know this because I see it, every single day, in the mirror when I stare at my bumbling hypocrisy and my perfect health and my working lungs and the fact that I am in the prime of my life and yet I choose to spend time watching people suffocate in bubble helmets. Their families won’t even be allowed to bury them and yet I have the gross audacity to watch in silence, safely tucked under the covers of a false sense of security, repeating, Well, I’m glad it’s not me.
Maybe we’ll bring disco back. Or, at the very least, ironic disco,
because we all know our attempts to resurrect the 70s would
make a mockery out of a cultural revolution. Maybe we’ll go
outside more. Hike the waterfalls we kept procrastinating, kiss
in the woods like suburban teenagers desperate for any variety
of escape, sleep under the stars in too-small tents. We’ll make
public displays of affection in vogue again. We’ll start dancing
with our hair down, really dancing, like it’s 1969 and we are
the counterculture generation, so intertwined we appear to be
one breathing body. Maybe we’ll learn to hug our loved ones
goodbye: before catching that red-eye flight, in the aftermath
of heated arguments, when they leave for work in the morning,
every morning. No excuses, no forgetting, none of it for granted.