I comb dolphins out my hair,
cough out peonies and sit in the nook of the moon,
catching comets and planting their seeds
so they can grow back up up up
to the moon.
I create tempests, swell the oceans
and they are moved to applause.
I have primrose fingers and a fountain pen
a springtime secret garden spilled over the page;
an entirely purple creation.
Lavender legs, I have lavender legs
and I stride down cloisters
leaving a violet mist.
A tea leaf smile, distilled and warm,
flora tumbling out of my ears.
Lavender legs, lavender legs,
I have lavender legs
and dolphins in my hair.
I comb dolphins out my hair,
My spine was the most unappreciated part of me. You had never seen it in its bare nakedness, satiny skin stretched tight over a sensuous serpent of bone, but now, while the moon squirmed in the sky like a bug struggling feebly in a puddle of ink, you could reach across the cushioned expanse of the mattress and touch it.
You brushed my unclothed spine with your fingertips, examining each curve, each crevice, as gracefully as an art fanatic handling a rare vase. You could feel all the beauty in the world, a lone daisy growing in a festering swamp, a premature baby’s first intake of breath, a freak oasis in a desert full of wandering souls, epitomized in a single stretch of interlinked vertebrae and cartilage and milky white bone.
Beyond the window, the night trembled, like an alive thing. Your breath caught in your throat.
You wondered how it was possible for me to exist. I was as vulnerable as a naked flame in this world, this world full of gunpowder and venom and melting ice caps, this world where the sound of slaughter scratched desperately at the glass bubble of the atmosphere with bloodied, ragged fingernails. I belonged in fairy tales; I should have been fluttering my delicate tissue paper wings in a child’s dream-cloud somewhere, not lying here with you beneath blankets that smelled of sweat and mildew. it didn’t seem real. it didn’t seem right.
You told yourself that one day you would climb my spine like a ladder, use my ribs as rungs. You would clamber up into my head so you could see how you looked through my eyes, with your corkscrewed hair and your shadow-ringed eyes and the coarse stubble fondling your cheeks, creeping up the column of your throat. Maybe I could do the same for you, feel the ache that you felt when you looked at me, because I was the closest thing that anybody could ever come to seeing an angel while their heart was still beating.
“Why can’t you see how beautiful you are?” you whispered into my hair.
Unaware, I dreamed on.
I spent my time
memorizing your essence.
The texture of your skin
as my fingertips danced upon it,
the warmth of your mouth
as you kissed me goodnight.
and ended with you,
you had become routine.
Now my hands search for you
in the midst of the night
until I grasp reality.
I have my fears and they hold me
close as if I am their daughter.
The sun rises and I feel the love you
planted in my heart dying, withering
away like an ocean shore,
I rise above the Nevada heat
and I become your favorite song —
something you can hear of a thousand
times but never touch.
I become something intangible,
something far away,
I hope you write to me like I am your
daughter, away at college or
I hope you watch plenty of Seinfeld,
and eat plenty of TV dinners,
I hope you do your duty as
a citizen, preventing forest fires,
no car accidents, feeding the cat.
I am not who I am,
but I am sorry.
I write poems like I make love.
Slow to start, kissing along the lips
and neck of my feelings, warming them up.
My heart begins to ache
as I slide my hands along the body of my emotions
and as irrational as they may be,
they respond by pulling on my heart strings —
pulling away my boundaries.
Soon we are naked and hurting,
my heart is bleeding and hot,
tears spill over my eyelids.
Into the climax we venture,
moving to the beat of my sadness and self destruction.
I come first, the verses spilling over each other
words of damage strong as they flow from me.
I write poems like I make love —
sweet, until it hurts.
The first time that he found me he asked me why I was just lying there in the grass.
The second time he joined me and told me that in his dreams he could swim underwater for hours without having to break the surface, he could just sit on the bottom of the ocean and watch bubbles pass his lips and float away. Then he said that he would wake up or drown or something like that.
And I didn’t say anything but I wondered if his air bubbles missed being his oxygen, and if his skin tasted like salt when he woke up.
The third time he didn’t join me and he just stood there until I knew what he was asking.
I told him how when I was eight I planted a handful of apple seeds five steps from the patio. I watered them all day and slept in the grass and when I woke up I wondered why I wasn’t in an orchard. And sometimes when I lay there I can feel the roots of my tree trying to break the surface, but I think that sometimes they’re happier down there and that’s okay.
Some nights I drive all
the way home and then cannot
remember how it
was I got there or
how many people I left
behind; some nights I
feel like I could run
every red light and never
think of going back.
It was three in the afternoon and I was with a boy in his father’s bed looking out the window, watching the snowstorm, wanting to die. I wished that I were drunk because if I were drunk I would not feel so low, so dirt in the bottoms of my shoes, so much like closing myself to him, like curling into a ball and covering every inch of myself in water. I could jump off of the George Washington Bridge. I could jump off of the Williamsburg Bridge. I could jump off of the Brooklyn Bridge. I could let myself fall into the forgiving waters and I wouldn’t be dying so much as I would be healing. These were the things that I was thinking.
It was four o’clock and I was on the corner in front of the boy’s house in the snowstorm and I was trembling and chain-smoking cigarettes and wishing I was anywhere but there. The boy didn’t even bother to ask me if I was fine as I left his house, angrily slamming the door behind me. He must have seen that I was crying that whole time, he must have noticed that I kept whispering despite myself, please, please stop now. I was thinking about bridges and bathtubs full of razorblades and electricity everywhere and alcohol poisoning and heroin overdoses and all of the ways in which we could break and it would be so damn simple. I was thinking about how I wanted to close my legs together hard but I was standing up. I did it anyway. It was four thirty and I had been chain-smoking cigarettes for half an hour and I was still squeezing my legs together too hard.
It was six o’clock and I was home and my father was angry. I was hiding in my room and he wouldn’t stop shouting, shouting about nothing and everything, shouting so loud his voice cracked through and it was harsh like the back of my throat from all the smoking and all the crying. I crawled under my bed, shaking. I stayed there for a long time. It was six twenty two and I was still under the bed when my father stopped shouting. It was six fifty seven when I came out dried up.
It was eleven o’clock at night and nothing made sense. I chain-smoked more cigarettes out of my bedroom window. It was eleven thirty and I thought I could call someone, and so I called someone, and their voice was edgy and they hung up fast. It was eleven forty-six and I asked my mother what makes a person a slut. She told me and I left. It was eleven forty-eight and I was a slut. It was eleven fifty and I was a slut. It was eleven fifty-six and I was a slut. I thought about razorblades and hiding in my grandmother’s attic. I thought about the George Washington Bridge and I thought about how it felt when I was falling after jumping off of a diving board and it was too late to change my mind and I thought about how it was too late to change what had happened when it was three in the afternoon with a boy in his father’s bed looking out the window, watching the snowstorm, wanting to die. I thought about how I couldn’t stop falling.
Unwrap my ribs. Impatiently,
like a present you’ve been waiting for
Smooth out the ripples
along my forehead, swallow
the lines from my palms.
Write sonnets to constellations
along my bruised calves, and
soil my upraised mouth with
fresh words that don’t
belong to me. Outline
characters inside my
elbows and paint their faces
down my stomach.
Take a microscope to the pores
between my vertebrae, set
unknown emotions and
nurture them tenderly. Stare through
my corneas like window-panes
cracked by heat from
a church fire. Clean
the bridge of my nose of
headaches and bottles and bottles
of asprin, vicodin and something
nameless and strong.
Snap my tibiae over your knee,
assemble a tired face,
put it over a mask, tie the
words to my lips and send
me out into the world a refreshed,
I need you to know that this usually brilliant city has been a deep shade of grey since you left. You thought I wouldn’t notice if you stole the light from my eyes into your suitcase when you took flight, but it’s gotten so murky that I can’t seem to find my way. I’m tripping over words and knocking into injured bones in an effort to find a light switch, but I’m starting to realize you are the switch and my eyes will just have to adjust until you’re back in my arms and making me glow.
But I need you to know that I’m standing on the edge, and that I could fall from these crumbling walls and into your embrace in a heartbeat, but I’ve mastered this balancing act, so you’ll never see me tremble. But every so often, when I think you’re not looking, I’ll take a deep breath and steady myself, and I need you to know that in those moments you’re so overwhelmingly and imperfectly beautiful in your vulnerability that my daydream of us seems closer than ever. I need you to know that even though your hands have been unsteady and my heart’s been playing hard to get, you’ve still managed to sweep me off my feet and into this reverie, and now all I need is your lips against mine and your heart safe in my chest.
And I need you to know that this is the closest I’ll get to moaning this in your ear because the tones in your voice and the fire in your eyes and the touch of your hand are thrilling, and when we kissed goodnight you softly pulled the words from my lips until I’d forgotten what it was I ought to have said. And I need you to know that when my heart was throbbing and I was holding tight to my glass and avoiding your eyes in favor of your lips, what I was really trying to say is that this isn’t just temptation, that I’m yours, and I’ll still be here in the morning, if you’ll let me stay that long. But my mind never could compose the words my heart was dying to say so I’d watch you walk away again and again. And I need you to know that I lied when I told you it was nerves, it was really just foolishness that gave you the wrong impression.
So above all, I need you to know that I’ve finally found the words, and if we’re lucky, one of these nights we’ll shine again and I’ll trace these mysteries on your lips and your hands and show you what I’ve been trying to say all along.