VISIONS OF A LIFE

That feeling— a nighttime walk in the crepuscular light
of late November, leaves crunching under rain boots
I wore by accident, having misunderstood the forecast
while rushing to catch the late bus in the morning.

There’s a certain kind of magic in that kind of being alone,
wandering home at half past seven, taking the longer route
just to bask in the breeze for a moment more. It’s hard not
to peer through the golden windows of other people’s
homes without appearing freakish and unnatural. But I do

anyway, sometimes, as they fold their laundry or put away
dinner plates or chat with their mothers on the phone.
Sometimes I’m lucky enough to catch a warm embrace
shared under the kitchen light fixtures. Sometimes I don’t
catch anything at all, just a dim room and a cat perched
on the ledge. A messy desk. An unwatered houseplant.

There’s a fondness in feeling momentarily at home in the world.

POOR CONNECTION

Twenty-first century lovesickness: I am tired
of only holding you through a pixelated screen.

It’s supposed to be good enough. But I yearn
for conversations under crabapple trees, chapped
lip kisses, a love that is less hope and more touch.

Does anyone even remember how anymore?

Sweat and spit and strands of hair.
Limbs unfolding. The delicious sweet of longing
for something ripe and flaming and palpable.

I know you and I do. We’ve crammed a whole
lifetime of it in a handful of short,
sweltering months.

For now,

it’s video calls until the early hours,
my heart begging to leap through the glass.

Good enough to pass the days. But god,

how I dream of those trees.

This World Isn’t My Type Anymore

today’s unedited journal entry

In my letters I write Things have been good! As good as they can be these days!, forced reassurance leaking through black ballpoint ink, unpoetic lines smeared by a heavy hand. What I mean by good is that I’ve got my hand stuck in a mixed bag. Some mornings I rise to an all-encompassing sense of dread, my body an anchor in a sea of boiling blood. Other mornings, though, I just make cinnamon oatmeal. Or a bagel with a thick layer of cream cheese. I’ll put on the radio and lie in bed for an extra hour and not miss out on anything. At least I won’t feel like I am. I’ve learned this life can feel sort of safe in the absence of the real thing. I’m not in love with it like I once was, no longer sucking the juice out of every short day I’m given, no longer chewing the rind for more. Content with what I can get— a hot shower, a vase of fresh flowers, an ounce of attention from the house cat— it’s enough. I’m not rationing joy. I’ve just stopped chasing after it. I just let it chase me, let it serenade me, let it fall first.

Beyond Even Blood

I am marrow and carbon and the blues.

There’s a poem in me somewhere.

[Nothing to find tucked in the crease of my elbow or behind my ears where I secure overgrown bangs from falling into my eyes or even the soft dip of my lower back tailor-made for tenderness. I have searched for it on the backs of my eyelids, the fleshy interior side of my lower lip, a manhunt for words engraved under my nail beds.]

I am fiber and plasma and the scattered aftermath of a supernova.

I am a reservoir for water and heartache and less blood than you’d think. I used to think we were mostly blood. I looked it up and we’re not. We’re only 7% of it. This is why blood is sacred.

Beyond half-functioning organs, a bad spine, beyond birthmarks and scars from a childhood of anger–

[somewhere, invisible to the naked eye, a poem shifts in its sleep.]

Contact Without Consequences

Tell me it’ll end well.

Tell me we’ll sit criss-cross applesauce on wall tapestries fashioned into makeshift beach towels until the August sun bleeds purple dye onto our sweaty thighs.

Tell me we’ll make it to the cities forever unchecked on our bucket lists, that we’ll take on the streets clutching clammy hands and not worrying if the shoulders of strangers bump into ours without apology. That if someone clears their throat we won’t turn the corner or evacuate the sidewalk, we’ll just keep walking and the conversation will, too.

Tell me it’ll end with our friends piled on top of each other, a singular giggling mass in the center of the apartment rug, that we’ll be the sun in our own solar system again, that gravity will tether us together and not further out of orbit.

I miss touching without thinking. Contact without consequences. Pinky promises and deafening stadiums and the pink birthday candles I never got to watch my best friend blow out. I miss blushing at coffee shops on rainy Saturdays when the characters in my novel finally share more than just a glance across a crowded room.

A crowded room. That feeling of being held. Of being alone but never lonely.

Real life has no proper replica. No suitable alternative.

You and I, the ones we love, the world we share.

Tell me we’ll get it back.

LIFE MOVES ABOVE AWARENESS

I am thinking of the things we leave behind before we even have the chance to notice. Skin cells and soulmates and stories. Strands of loose hair in the shower, fingerprints on escalator handrails, shot glances, minor details of our histories (what you ate for breakfast on your first day of sixth grade), these small things of which we do not care enough to store for safekeeping. Life moves above awareness and permanence is only as permanent as it feels. This I know because there came a day I found myself standing very still in the middle of a bustling sidewalk stranded in a city, a moment, a life I could not recognize. The natural question came to mind: How did I get here? as I stood in a body unknown to me, alien vessel drowning in a sea of colors I could not name. Sensory overload, system failure, panic. Cars drove past without noticing, time still set in motion with no regard for who chooses to stand motionless. It hit me then and there, in the eye of my own hurricane, that everything I shed– hair ties left behind on ex-boyfriends’ nightstands, poems written on the backs of coffee shop napkins crumpled and tossed into train station garbage cans, an old phone number saved in a dead friend’s phone– took me here. It was all my doing. Every act unnoticed is still an act after all.

MEANDERING

“and autumn comes when you’re not yet done with the summer passing by”

Mitski, “Francis Forever”

I’m begging God to slow time. Drag the clock, please; curb my insatiable appetite for speed. I’ve been beseeching the universe to make me painfully aware of every small moment slipping between my fingers before they’re all gone for good. Seasons pass without warning or indication and I’m not ready for the end of this one. There is a finite space between every dawn and dusk. Every birth and death. Every departure and destination. Only until it is gone do we realize the significance of the going. I should have loved you more if I knew I’d have to stop one day. I should have admired the autumn for a few more afternoons before the bright orange skyline would inevitably fade. I should have savored the present. Held more hands. Kissed deeper. Melted over the sweet nothings: precious company, full tables, easy conversation. Expressed my care. Spoken up. Said what I wanted to say but never did, the words spilling out without walls.

A prayer.

Let me get there gradually. Let me let it all go, piece by piece and unhurried, without the blunt sensation of being ripped out of a safe womb. Let it be a steady goodbye– a slow burn, a softer pain.

Praise to the Holy Habitual

The story goes like this.

One day you’re sitting in a living room on a Friday night
with the family you chose for yourself, howling laughter
ricocheting off apartment walls, everyone seeing double.
We’re fifteen bodies content in perfect company, pushing
the limits of a noise complaint from the neighbors, but
singing out anyway, because we are here, we are here

and then we’re not

and we may never be again

at least not in the same way.

Perfect configurations, these habitual moments
we hold close but never quite close enough.

For a brief moment in time we were just twentysomethings
kicking our shoes off by the door to stay for a while.

That’s the story.

It has no ending

but maybe that’s what makes it worth telling.

We were there,
we were there,
we were there.

I could sing it out forever.

CHAPTER ENDINGS FROM A BOOK I’LL NEVER WRITE

Alternate titles:
A Collection of Real and Fake Stories: All Involving Hand-Holding
Repressed Trauma, but Make It Art
These Characters Aren’t Real, so Stop Guessing
Or Are They? Perhaps Partially

V.
Our song has always been “Sleep on the Floor” by The Lumineers. Months after it all ended I ran back to you out of fear of being alone forever (or maybe being with someone who wasn’t you) and we watched the movie adaptation of that song. You stacked your biology textbooks to make a suitable stand for your laptop. It was our makeshift theater: the tiny LED screen in your dark, empty room, the feeling that so much had changed yet nothing between us, and two bodies terrified of touching, of making the secret too real. I rested my head on your shoulder like I used to. You didn’t flinch. I grabbed your hand when the characters on screen did. You still didn’t flinch. It was like you knew it would happen. That I would cave, that it was inevitable. At least I did, the whole time.

The movie is a lot like the song. It’s your run-of-the-mill indie film featuring two runaway lovers hitchhiking across the country so high on young love that nothing else can matter, not even rationality. She’s sad and he is too. Aren’t we all? They build a life together: not of bricks and drywall and a mantle of framed photographs, but of adventure– getting married because why not, dancing in the desert, fighting on the interstate to nowhere, holding each other asleep in decrepit motel rooms. I remember you and I dreamt of a life like that. No white picket fence. We weren’t about veils and church and children. When we were younger I’d feel suffocated and you’d remind me. There’s a world out there. We could just leave, you know. The universe doesn’t care if we stay or go. I believed in the universe more than I did in God but I’d still play Devil’s advocate. I wanted a family then. I wanted a porch swing and a rocking chair and a place at the table set for me. I wanted to plant roots somewhere and watch our flowers grow wild and untamed.

Nobody knows about the night of the movie or what happened or how we pulled away but it rots in my memory like a sore that won’t heal. At the end of it, you asked me, Why’d she leave? If they were so happy, why did she choose to leave him in the end?

I didn’t have the answer then but I do now.

She was scared.

After everything they’d shared, she was still scared. Scared of what she would do if he asked her, without warning, to pack a toothbrush, her favorite blouse, to leave town with him under cover of darkness. No looking back. No proper goodbye to the life left behind. Decide on me. Decide on us.

Strange– there’s a part of me already sitting in your passenger seat, escaping with you before the rest of the world wakes up. I fear the same thing as her. I already know what I’d decide.

You, in the desert, in that place set for us.

an excerpt from ANATOMY OF A GIRL ON FIRE

I.

On the top shelf of the closet in my childhood bedroom is my heart in a shoebox. I hoard memories because they are the closest replicas I have to a life that can hold its own shape. When people ask about my past I wish I could take them home to rummage through the cardboard walls, to pour out its contents in search of something palpable, something like me.

You’d know more about me if you knew the types of things I choose to keep.

There’s a sepia photograph of my mother as a child, torn around the edges as if harvested from a larger picture lost to time. A pocket music box I purchased from a kitschy shop in Vienna, Austria that still plays “Eine kleine Nachtmusik” when you crank the metal handle. A realistic cat figurine with faux fur I took from a hallway cart in my grandmother’s nursing home before she died of cancer (that probably belonged to someone next door who died just days before she did). A magnetic key card I accidentally stole from the Hotel Chopin in Sochaczew, Poland that I must’ve thrown into my suitcase as we hurried out before dawn to catch a flight back home. Tickets to magical places: Les Misérables at the National Theatre, the Angels in America production held at my university, Lorde’s Melodrama world tour where I mourned over my adolescence under fluorescent green lights, a personalized walk-through of the Vatican Museum, the crumbling Rocca Maggiore castle in Assisi (where I got stuck in a spiral staircase in the tallest tower), a Lufthansa plane ticket to Rome from when I was 16 years old and a world traveler. Clutter that normal people would throw away in a heartbeat: a suspiciously perfect cube of rubber I found in the grass after my senior year homecoming game and just never threw away, a gravy-stained receipt that a former coworker used to write a note of encouragement to me– Hi Michelle! You got it!— when I worked the front line of my minimum wage food service job scooping potatoes and turkey for a massive Thanksgiving feast. My middle and high school ID cards, playbills of the musicals in which I took center stage (Shrek! The Wiz! The Addams Family!), a tin container of unwrapped soap that, to me, can only be described using the word “Christmas.” A folded letter from my dear friend Julie from our first semester of college, dozens of orchestra medals from when I was first violin concertmaster, proof I’ve lived a life I chose for myself: a postcard from Wexford, Pennsylvania when I first visited my love in his own city, a stamped slip to ride the Duquesne Incline in downtown Pittsburgh, a lanyard from Virginia Tech’s freshman orientation back when my world felt brand new, blurry Polaroids of people I can’t call friends anymore, the first poem I ever felt proud of writing: “A Time Will Come,” written on a manual typewriter in the winter of seventh grade. Photographs of various eras: prom night, sitting with my friends in a sunflower field, group shots of a Catholic retreat I went on three separate times even though, at the time, I couldn’t tell you I believed in God at all. A brochure to the Sylvia Plath exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery where I stood very still for an hour, basking in the relics of my idol. My high school graduation announcement. A tiny jar of gold leaf flakes from Santa’s elves in 2004 that came with a note of warning: “Do not open. Water will turn you into a frog.” My dad still finds that one clever. A bucket list I typed out before I turned 13: Marry the love of your life. Take a selfie with a shark. Try a weird ice cream flavor (like pickle!!!) Skydive. Graduate high school with flying colors. I smile to myself before crossing that last one off. It feels good. 70% of people with my mental illness do not end up graduating. I think of the girl who wrote that, the girl with all of this stuff in her mind with no place to put it. I imagine her smiling back, proud of me.