Other Kinds of Tongues

Trying to write well these days is like picking at a faded scar with the intent to make it bleed the same fiery shade of red as the first time. You can’t. You just end up with a new wound. 

I keep trying to resurrect the same buried memories of us as a means of breathing living air into a dead love. But that love is a rotten corpse, and we both know that, and so does everyone who still reads my work these days. We’re just bones now. We’re just decay. I can’t recreate the stars we shared, or the tangled limbs in the sweltering aphrodisia of late August, or the blessed sacrament of sharing a twin bed, holy unwedded.

Every new description of you is a counterfeit of the real thing. A false god with no believers to back up His realness. I can write all I want about how we’d skip Sunday morning church to speak in other kinds of tongues. Or about giving you haircuts over the moldy bathroom sink with safety scissors. All of that blond clogging my drain. A sharp gasp of horror.

What can I say? Dead loves make for delicious poetry. All of that tragedy and tenderness, lovemaking and then breaking. 

I can’t help but pull us back into the present. Chipped paint and goosebumps and a single-stemmed rose. Bottled soda shaken too hard, spilling over your lap in the library. A goodbye. A heaviness. A piece of me crumpling inside, tinfoil.

I wonder if you still read me.

I wonder, even more so, if you can find us in the replica.

THE NEWS BROKE CENTURIES AGO

THESE ARE UNPRECEDENTED TIMES! shrieks every other Facebook post I stumble upon during my daily afternoon session of Trying to Escape The Void That Is My Mind: A Memoir I Haven’t Written Yet. Most of those who wield the phrase are characters from my hometown, typically of the insufferable variety. You know the type: front row seat at church yet judging other parishioners’ Sunday best, ignorant to the racist comments they mumble over green bean casserole during Thanksgiving dinner, the kinds of mothers that frown upon their youngest daughter dating someone who wouldn’t fit into the annual family photo, a blinding sea of white for this year’s Christmas card. There’s usually a caffeine-fueled rant accompanying the phrase, mixed with a dollop of ignorance– to taste, generally about how the need to wear face coverings during an ever-worsening pandemic is AN INFRINGEMENT ON MY CIVIL LIBERTIES! It’s easy to suppress the urge to punt these kinds of people in the stomach. All I have to do is remember the kinds of people they are and then arrive at the conclusion that it wouldn’t be worth the energy needed to swing my leg forcefully enough.

I hate that phrase almost as much as I hate the word UNPRECEDENTED used in this context. By definition, it means Something That Has Never Been Done or Seen Before. I call BS on that one, because everything newsworthy that has made headlines in recent months is only a sequel to a preexisting episode. A follow-up, the fulfillment of an inevitable To Be Continued. We didn’t invent every gruesome occurrence to unfold before our eyes this calendar year. We’re only living in what the history books left out, dear Conspiracy Mongers. The news broke centuries ago and you’re just now tuning in.

There’s nothing UNPRECEDENTED about the here and now. We’ve seen it all before through the eyes of different characters, most of them decades dead. Worldwide plagues, institutional racism, the silencing of a revolution– the same recycled themes loop over and over and only the ones brave enough to shake hands with the past remember. Some read history books without wondering what didn’t make the page, what was thrown into the sea of unimportance. How many names? How many deaths?

These are unprecedented times for them, maybe, or even for you. 

But how many times will it take for you to find the precedent in unprecedented?

The certain in uncertain?
The real in the–blood, sweat, tearssurreal?

SO MUCH OF ABSOLUTELY NOTHING

It’s me 

and this tragic blank page, 

and our next-door neighbor wielding

some sort of deafening machinery to tidy up

the rose bushes that appear to have devoured even

their front door, and a half-full mug of unsweetened

Japanese green tea that has since given up its heat for the sake

of my disappointing writing, and the feeling of Damn, so much

of absolutely nothing has happened this year, and the page filling up

with lifeless, lackluster poetry as it does every night. It’s me and this vast

loneliness, me and touch-starvation, me and these incurable bouts of

missing you until I fall asleep, if I even do. It’s me and forgetting 

the involuntary reaction to human touch, that elbow-to-elbow

peace of a city crowd, of being a buoy in a sea of hot breath,

so much closeness and so little air to separate it. I hate that

I can’t write or see you or lose myself in the world. Or 

that I’m running low on vital hoping. For now, it’s

me and the hatred of this calendar year, and how

the neighbor has stopped loudly grinding away

at the stubborn weeds that needed tending

to because at least, when he was, that

gave me something to listen to,

something small to believe in

for at least a few minutes.

It’s me and I’m

probably just

as tired as 

you are

HEAD AND HEART, BOTH IN PIECES

I.

Stuck in the sludge of the now, I possess no energy

for anything other than burrowing in bed from seven

o’clock to the next seven o’clock. My depression is

an all-day affair, a calendar filled to capacity, gridlock. 

I let the knots in my hair feel at home. It’s hard enough

remembering I still have a body in need of tending to.

II.

I wish the Internet had answers for how to love properly

in spite of the fact that my brain is trying to poison itself.

It’s tough not to feel like I’m contaminating you, sadness

being a potent venom seeping through your skin. Or if not

the Internet, maybe God, or my mom, or the books I read.

III.

Does anyone know?

Paging the universe! 

Calling the vast unknown!

Is anyone there?

IV.

Is it even possible to keep you safe 

while falling into the dangers of myself?

For You I Would Jump First

I cannot love carefully. 

Unlike you, I do not prepare for it. You are knee pads and escape plan and desperate Sign of the Cross. You triple-check and strategize and never leap without certainty of safety. I am not like you. I am freefall and blind faith and trusting the parachute without checking to see if it is even tethered to my body at all. You love me anxiously. I love you recklessly.

It is hard, reconciling this. I cradle you closer than skin and dream of our house by the bay, pale yellow shutters and little ones in the yard, picking weeds and gathering ladybugs. Sunday mornings, cross-country road trips to the canyons, to the other ocean, I see it all with you. You keep your eyes shut, lashes flitting, lost in some other dream. 

You fear making a mistake out of eagerness, miscalculation, too much risk. I fear not risking enough. For you I put all of my eggs in one basket and swing, letting time decide the trajectory. I do not fear the landing. I would rather trust gravity than waste potential.

I cannot love with reservations. 
But you do and you can. You calculate the geometry of your plunge. You are seatbelts and weighing consequences and guarantee. But I still love you. I can jump first, nosediving without a net to catch me, waiting at the bottom just to give you a safe place to land.

IMPOSSIBLE FAIRYTALES

If I had my way, I’d burn every piece of evidence that I existed here. Incinerate every paper trail, wipe the surfaces clean of my fingerprints, and depart after nightfall without leaving a note. I’d slip noiselessly through the window like a woman’s cotton scarf torn away by seaside wind. I think I’d fancy an abandoned cottage, enveloped in ivy, a couple hundred miles away from every face that knows mine. I’d take nothing with me except what’s necessary for comfortable survival– a pair of sturdy shoes, a photograph of my mother, my best dress. I’d remember to shut the window behind me.

I’d take you with me if you wanted, but I wouldn’t force disappearance upon you. I know you have an affinity for the real world, that you feel warm and welcome in it, unlike me. You cherish company. You relish in the laughter of people you call friends, a matter of importance to you and one I can respect without relating. You’re cultured and admired and cosmopolitan. I’m growing stale.

On my mountainside I’d grow my own herbs and probably have a dog. A real colossal dog, to make up for never having had one. I’d pick up learning French again without the intention of ever using it, just because I’m an artist and all artists should acquaint themselves with the romance languages, a vital pursuit if you’re even vaguely serious about your craft. Qui vivra verra. I’d start each day with bitter coffee, as I usually do, and poetry. But the poetry wouldn’t be for anyone other than me. I’d rip the inky pages from my journal and hang them loosely from a clothesline, fabrics billowing. Let Nature have her way with me. I give her permission to move and be moved.

I wouldn’t call home. We’re not the same like that. I don’t have anything left unsaid, nothing worth missing or tending to. I’m ready for wildflowers and blackberry jam and leaving this behind. I don’t want to look back. I’ve said my peace and let the words fall to pieces.

I would secretly still want you to come with me. We could build a storybook life. I could keep you to myself, bathe you, touch you always. I wouldn’t make you, though, because I know your life here is comfortable and brimming with movement that excites and stirs you, but I would hope you’d at least visit me. I would share my poetry with you; I would feed you the ripest vegetables. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe you’d like it, too. But maybe that’s just me being optimistic and romantic and mad. You know I have that tendency.
Even if you decide not to come, I’d still keep your side of the bed vacant. I’d rock myself to sleep. I’d set you a place at the table. I’d even send you letters, no return address, just You know where to find me, whenever (if ever) you’re ready. And I’d sit there alone and hope.

Ode to my Notes App

Scroll through the majority. Grocery list. Milk, frozen food,

bathroom soap refill, chicken. Dead link to a writing contest

I didn’t win. Drunk poetry drafts. Lines I still haven’t used.

You hold so much of me, caretaker of unassembled lives.

Here is a list of one-day names for one-day babies I have

not yet held and may never hold. Ava, Carter, Willow,

Violet, it goes on but I always stop reading there. I just

don’t like to worry about the lives I could possibly ruin. 

Diary entries typed through wet eyes at the witching hour.

Textbook chapters I never read. Movies still unwatched.

My ex’s Twitter password. I’d leak it here if I were feeling

particularly evil. An old friend’s Starbucks order. Venti.

Credit card number disguised in code. Same with Social

Security. License plate. Excerpts from a dream journal.

I dreamt once that you had bone cancer. I wrote it down

and that was the end of it. Useless information, alphabet

soup, loose bits of the jigsaw puzzle I’m putting together.

I mean, at least I have the pieces.

LIKE IT’S SUNDAY CHOIR

I think I need to sing more.

The world’s covered in sludge right now. Everyone’s stepping on each other’s toes, and that’s not to say this wave of violence isn’t for a good cause, because it is, and lately we have every reason to rage against. But I’m tired. I’m soaked in it. I’m sitting at my laptop contemplating the blunt inevitability of death, and how one day everyone I’ve ever accidentally crossed paths with at the grocery store self-checkout line and that one overcrowded undergraduate English class taught by a professor we all hated and every hand I’ve shyly grasped during a semi-romantic first date at the movies will one day return to dust for good. Every human body I’ve held close to mine. Thinking this way, it’s nearly impossible to not fall straight into the empties. The existence of death makes life feel exhausting. We fall incurably in love and burn old bridges and wound others for what?

I need a way out of the clutches of death that isn’t death itself. Like growing my own herbs. Or bird-watching. I get why this almost universally appeals to grandfathers and loners alike. I mean, it appeals to me now, too. Pastimes like that give you something to focus on while time brutally blurs the solid shapes of a life together. An anchor to hold onto while the colors run and bleed into each other, the landscape of your life beginning to come undone, unraveling right before your eyes as your bones begin to putrefy.

I think I need to sing more. I’m talking sing like it’s Sunday choir and I’m six-and-a-half and missing my left front tooth and I believe in Our Savior Jesus Christ as my redeemer and the world has to know or nothing about me matters. Sing like tomorrow’s the last day we’ll have music, like we’ll wake up and it’ll be gone as if everything we hum under our breath never existed at all. Sing like I could lose function of my voice box and never sing again, because I actually could, which I guess, in its own right, is one kind of death. 

I’m gonna sing like the world isn’t losing its melody.

Like it’s clean and it’s calm and we can all still carry a tune.

All Artists Have to Suffer for Their Art

Part One

I blame my bad poetry on good medication. You win some, you lose some, I guess. When it’s three o’clock in the morning and I’m clawing at my skin trying to flee the cage of my body, I bleed out Pulitzer Prize-winning work. It’s like I rely on psychosis for the right words. But when I’m sitting pretty, brain numbed to a satisfactory stillness, and I’ve tossed back the powdery pills that make the scary thoughts dissolve like granulated sugar on the tongue, I’m suddenly at a standstill with the keyboard. This is a cold war of my own invention, but this time it’s just me against me. I can’t move a finger when I’m stable, when I’m smiling, when I’m not actively dangling one foot over the edge, threatening to shift my center of gravity.
All artists have to suffer for their art, I pretentiously announced to my English class at seventeen. I had convinced myself that I was a someday visionary, a literary prodigy ahead of her time! But in retrospect, that was probably just undiagnosed bipolar disorder already in full swing, invading the nooks and crannies of a muddled mind. Nevertheless, I was writing back then– a lot and well. I won awards. I touched people enough to make them weep. I decorated my bookshelves with gold medals and crisp certificates and gazed at them all day as a means of inspiration. But I was also dangerously sick. I’d skip dinner and break skin and pen goodbye letters to my friends and almost send them, but at least I was writing, right?

Dearest Season We’ve All Been Waiting For:

We wish for grass-stained kneecaps and sudden summer downpours puddling around muddy bare feet and strollers carrying babies that babble and wave their dimpled hands as if they’ve met us in another life. We wish for yard sales run by someone’s grandparents packed with useless collectibles from a war we weren’t alive for and sprawling picnics that leave our fingers stained cherry red, tying stems with our tongues like we’re sixteen and curious if we’d be good at making out with our high school crushes. We wish for so much, dear summer. The juice of ripe pomegranates dripping down our palms and over-chlorinated swimming pools and pitiful attempts to suntan. We’ve had a darn hard spring, summer, so we place our trust in you.

We wish for bomb pops from sketchy ice cream trucks driven by oddball characters we distrust and Independence Day sparklers purchased in bulk from the corner firecracker stand even though patriotism is becoming a dead language, and rightfully so. We wish for the baptismal cool of mountain lakes and the intoxicating fury of ocean waves when we hold our noses and go under. We wish for an end to hospitals packed with undeserving souls and the hatred that permeates our people. Heal us, summer. Go easy.

Because we’re overdue with wishes and we’re spilling over.

Freshly squeezed farmers market blood orange lemonade.

Vinyl records that skip through open windows.

Less blood and more mercy.

Love always, 

All of us.