I slice into it every morning,
lengthwise, with the same knife
I use to spread butter on my toast.
A thin film of it covers everything,
a spell of haze getting thicker by the day.
I don’t taste the butter anymore,
and it stops mattering
that I hadn’t had white bread
since 2013, maybe longer.
All this whole grain on my palate.
All that fiber in my digestive system.
I used to count calories and pounds.
Numbers had arms I could run to,
for comfort. I wish
health could be quantified.
The odds of beating this.
The odds of living.
The odds of sitting in this dubious silence
with the variables I couldn’t begin
to write down leaking from every
piece of plumbing in the house.
Drip, drip, drip.
Sometimes being out of control
is a still life painting. Texture of breakfast
under patch of light, neutral, unpolitical.
The hands poised to assume a gesture
either of mad destruction or surrender
but from this side of the canvas
we can’t tell because the enemy
is one we can’t see. Or hear.
Don’t tell me where to put my anger
when my cupped palms are
overflowing with my acid grief
and all the drawers are full
of the noises of my dead friends
reincarnated as vipers
don’t try to teach me how to channel my rage
when the tail end of the whip is still warm
from the last fifty thousand lashes
it had cracked on the backs of the innocent
the same backs their pet monsters stand on
the same bloodied flesh they feed on
the same bones they have picked clean
to make cursed crowns from
don’t point out to me the things that aren’t
as good as silence, just because silence
got you far
don’t offer me those pretty angles
with which to frame my words, as if
you are ashamed of the same truths
that were never afraid to stand up for you
and stare down the barrels of guns for you
and put their own dreams on hold for you,
as if you weren’t a child conceived in
the hundred ways that tyrants failed
to contain an anger that clawed
and gnashed and hacked and burned
its way to change
so you could sleep soundly at night
and afford the foolishness of telling
your neighbor where to put her anger
I would rather the staggering
into the next daylight incomplete
and unprepared like one of those
dreams choking on symbols
half of which I won’t remember
when my eyes open.
I would rather the cycle
of beginning with my hormones
caught between its teeth
like a marionette’s strings, jerky
involuntary movements that
are all reason and no rhyme
purging past pleasures
bent at the waist over a pot
of porcelain, my pain
echoing on the bathroom walls
and escaping through the vents
sending him running: that love.
Evolved and almost unrecognizable
from its very first form
of lattes, bucket of roses,
Jupiter Avenue lights.
I’d rather be held by the same
questions with the same answers
circling like waves
as I count the weeks, the months
“I’m not OK but I will be”
there’s another life inside of me
wreaking havoc and all bets
are off on when the nerves would
calm, or if. But I wanted this,
rather this, a slow-motion redemption
multiplying from the cells
of my own flesh, this, my body
a battlefield of mineral supplements
and medically induced sleep
twenty lab technicians handling
twenty vials of my blood
shuffled deck of sky,
tides and triggers of tears
than the blank slate I had
sang so many pining songs for,
than the illusion of safety, cans
upon cans of white paint
and temporary fixes,
than not knowing who I am
than nights of lucid sinning
and mornings of brutalized peace
Sometimes expectations can feel like a prison.
And in those times what feels at first like disappointment is actually liberation.
I wish I could write the season that cancels you
invoke the onslaught of a single color recurring over
surfaces and souls, even of things that have no souls,
until the secrets that were named after you and
the points of the past where I conjured the parts of you
that fell into place when you materialized at my side
that music-drunken night become indecipherable,
like a dead language.
I have been locked out the of the vault of my own mind,
all I hear are weak paraphrases of my most outspoken demons,
watered down convictions, the passwords and keys I am missing
appearing as the vague shapes of the hurts I cannot bring
myself to touch a second time after the first contact.
I wish I could make the search bars stop predicting you,
I wish the stories I am privy to did not reflect my own
behavior. I wish the picture painted by my browsing history
were more than a laundry list of my weaknesses.
I wish I could wake up and fumigate the old narrative,
watch the festering critters of my unhealthy tendencies
scamper and jump off the edges of the screen as fast as
their six legs could carry them, without succumbing
to the lie that I would miss them, and resist the urge
to gather them back.
I no longer hold against you
your sub par love
I know you only learned how to treat me
by watching me
and I had that habit of
putting myself last,
giving you more room,
gathering to myself my flourishes
and feathers so you might feel safer,
so next to me could feel
more like home to you.
I thought by making myself lighter
you’d be compelled to trust me
with the gravity of the battles you carry,
the trophies from the demons
you’d slain to cross a desert’s
worth of ancestral blood.
I did everything right
you could sculpt perfection
from the sum of my sacrifices.
I was a nobody, I was nowhere
you touched me whenever you wanted
and none of me stained
I cleared the way, minimized my needs
so that my future could be
your blank slate, your life’s stage
but you never danced for me
you never sang for me
all those spotlights on you
and you never saw me
and in the end I begged but
you had made up your mind to be free of me
and the world had only gotten smaller
for you since then
but you never got the irony
and now you see me loving myself
loving a love that doesn’t require
being unapologetic for my wild self,
my loud self, being unafraid
to leave where I am not
and suddenly you want me?
suddenly you spare no grand,
sweeping stroke in expressing
the devotion you offer me
suddenly you’re dismantling
the performance you’ve built
just to get me to reconsider
please don’t disrespect the lesson
it’s no longer 2007
and I’m no longer stupid
you learn how to treat me
by watching me
stop watching me
Washington Memorial Gardens, February 5th 2020
The sky carried the weight of so much gray on its shoulders
winter was bracing for another hearty exhale
the pale grass, low on the ground, did all it could
to keep from shivering. The carpet
they reverently rolled out over the adjacent graves
mimicked the lush green of mid-spring
albeit a little frayed,
a little worse for wear on the edges.
That itself was a poem: death is an anachronism,
out of place, out of time. It tries to belong,
but ends up disturbing the color of everything.
But for a short time we are all standing huddled
on a patch of a simulation of a kinder season,
the right angles hugging the six-foot
deep cavity on the earth just so.
The funeral people have done this hundreds of times before;
they already know how its goes. Already mastered the art
of walking around in somber whispers around broken hearts,
around lives so freshly uprooted and gasping
with questions of how to go on. We entrust to them
the bulky cumbersome heirloom of our grief.
The men who marched the white and pink
box bearing the last of her: one son,
one son-in-law, four grandsons,
almost stumbled on the slope.
There was dignity even in that.
That itself was a poem: between the wood
and the wispy flesh on her frail, all-important bones
there’s enough responsibility to pull you down,
down on your knees, down to the need for rest,
the responsibility of being left behind.
It took only the push of a button concealed on the metal
to finish the job, lowering all that we had come here for
into its final resting place. Dust to dust.
Faultless hydraulics, eight-inch wide straps
of enough tensile strength to lend
grace to the blow of a final goodbye.
Flowers descend like rainfall.
* * *
Rest in peace, Dorothy Lee Beauford.
Which was the flower,
and which was the thorn?
among the lows, the highs
among their faces, their hands
the places their hands took me
and the noises they made
my reflections in the speckled mirror
as I triggered landmines
in the salt desert of my flesh
the prison of a blank screen
the knocks on the door that would
rudely misplace my heart
from my chest to my throat
the tears that skipped my tear ducts
jumped straight into the page
and turned into swords
which was the blue,
which was death from drowning?
which parts am I most possessive of,
now that the colors have faded,
which parts had most resembled courage
at first glance?
which parts closed the door
on everything else that follows,
the parts that tell me I’ve been tamed?
I had a sustained period of madness
a hundred cursed mornings on a string
two hundred haunted nights on a spiral
and my whole life as I knew it
on the line.
It somehow found a way to quantify
pleasure, that madness,
calculated it was worth risking everything;
somehow made an exquisite blossoming
from the gritty danger.
Some vicious cycles feel like dreams;
all addictions are dreams, I think
they follow nightmare logic
the seething edges of your own shadow
pressing on all sides like walls,
obsession and her self-destructive twin
looming, cadmium red, insidious
mistresses of deception and seamlessly
assuming the appearance of a savior,
of a love.
Some falls from grace are like dreams;
all half-successful mimics of love
are dreams, I think
and I only realized how the world
hadn’t quite lined up
until I woke up
with blood in my hands,
the blood of knowing I could never
have self-harmed that long and that deeply
but at least it’s over now
I should learn something
but between what’s real and what isn’t
which was the burning,
which was the rise from the ashes?
Tell me an important thing about you
that no one or few people know.
The most difficult and longest running struggle
of my life is choosing between something
that is good for me and something that lets me
produce my greatest work.
* * *
I want his attention
I want to spend his time
even though I am probably not worthy
even though the variables are not ripe for it
even though we cannot choose each other
even though it would create
a monster of pain
with an entourage of chaos
as large as any joy I might pull from it
I want to be his addiction
because I’m addicted to what he does to me
because he ignites me
because he awakens me
because he makes mediocrity feel
like a bed of nails
because he catalyzes in my blood
wars and constellations
invokes a new and complex radiance
I have acquired a taste for overnight
it spills like raw honey,
all over the walls of my harnessed madness,
on my breakfasts, the abstract
shapes on my vision board
it drips from my fingers
contaminating my expressions
staining the choreography of my gestures
influencing every half inch of
movement in my arabesque
inserting itself in every quarter note
of melody I dance to
even the audience in the front row
doesn’t see, like immortality
in a million imperceptible increments
then talk about the performance afterward
like it’s the most potent drug
they’ve ever gotten into
so give me his love
even though I can never handle it
give me his love because I need it
because why would I deprive the world
of the adamantine contradiction
of sin mimicking salvation
to absolute perfection
and being there to witness it
every night, every matinee
Nine thousand miles from the grasp
of hands of ash, I feel the weight
of dormant decades violently broken
pulling down on my nonexistent wings
phantom itch on lungs that haven’t
choked on that lakeside air for so long
phantom burn on skin
Is the gray of your sky
the same shade as mine?
I have reached a reluctant familiarity
with winter, though with strong
gusts of wind it still causes me grief.
It’s what’s falling from your sky
that’s foreign to me now;
I was too young to remember
the last time, though I’ve read
so many heartbreaking stories
shrouded in that color of everything
we want to forget, scratched raw
across the pages by pieces of glass
spit out from the earth’s soul
that handfuls of it materialize
inside my shoes, in between my toes
or on the flat of my tongue
at unexpected times, usually when
my self-worth is disoriented and
my faith is shaken at the foundations.
Much has been said about us
being rebellious children of
storms and saltwater; we forget
we are igneous when our troubles
and tectonics are asleep. Most of us
are too young to remember the last time;
those who have firsthand wisdom
have left us with stories. Sometimes
it terrifies me that those stories
are the heaviest anchors of my being
and everything else would rust
or be undone by the wind, some wind,
of which there are plenty.
The lake was calm when I last saw it.
The horses were wild and regal
in their beauty when I last saw them.
Now the sky is swallowing lightning,
summoning to the surface
our worst nightmares
and I’m too far from home
to feel the earth rumble.
(Sending prayers and love to the victims of the Taal Volcano eruption.