Uncertainty

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.
Drip, drip.

Warning: You’re about to hate me.

It starts with being around you
making me feel like I’m
wearing a Dollar Tree cosplay
of an efficient, functioning adult
with just a healthy amount of
wit to make me likeable and
an acceptable proportion of cynicism
and grace to make me relatable,
when underneath I don’t know
what I’m doing and I’m about
to be exposed any minute.

It ends with the room you occupy
being too toxic for me to exist in.
And in a shock of self-awareness
I realize this is probably more of
an octopus situation and all your
big words and confident voices
are triggering this ink in self-
defense, murking the waters
and distorting everything.
That maybe I’m the toxic one.
Every next movement is noise.
The space for clarity gets smaller,
and everyone feels more and more
trapped. Until my own state of mind
gets uninhabitable and I cease to be
viable for this social experiment.

I don’t think I belong in this box.

Brave

“Sometimes the bravest thing you can do is reach out for help,” said the poster on the bus, advertising the suicide helpline.

I made calls and left messages to a total of 47 unique phone numbers of mental health professionals with facilities I could take a bus to.

15 of them did not call back.

9 of them are willing to have me come in. Cash payments only. A month’s worth of groceries per session.

23 of them work with my insurance but aren’t taking new patients.

But at least I did “the bravest thing”? I imagined myself a soldier in the trenches, not gaining a single inch for days. I hadn’t bathed and had been eating nothing but junk, so I guess that fit the metaphor a little.

The exchanges of fire raged on around me and I stayed in place, resigned to my fate.

It was when the bottom of Lake Michigan became a disembodied voice telling me to jump that I decided to try being brave again.

I now have a weekly appointment at a decrepit, windowless building on the West Side, with a social worker who walks with a limp and has the most soothing voice I have ever heard. A voice that can cleanse sentences of judgement and rearrange meanings. He tells me, but in different words, that he knows how brave I have been.

I reckon he’d been through some war himself. He and I are both soldiers.

Chrysalis

Not surrounded, but a part of me
that I intimately know and cherish
folding into a fist of which my
flesh is part, not imprisoned.
A dense and opaque darkness
of my own making, half
destruction, half waiting.
Out of instinct I had not allowed
a space for voices, only change.
Here, the past is weightless
and the future can’t exist.
There’s a promise that it will
emerge beautiful, but there are
so many things that could go
wrong outside in my absence.
Breaths come as pauses;
the process grows impatient.
The process is me. I am
the undulating, the weeping
on the bridge between new and
old, the temptation of ending
versus fighting to occupy
a place larger than this.

It requires so much pain.

Some Questions are a Route to Ashes

After years that I’d been
forcing my misery into hiding,
all the tenuous, temporary places,
beneath the sheets after the lights
go out, or behind a locked door
with the water running
to drown the sound
of my desperately held reality
splintering into small,
debunked reasons,

I looked again into its eyes
and found that it has changed
(as, perhaps, I have).
It now has the face of rage
instead of despair,
no longer the friend made of shadows
I was accustomed to betraying,
the terrain of threatening storms
I was used to navigating,
to bending, to coaxing into silence
with bribes of mental trinkets
I’ve hoarded like cheap treats
to appease a child.
Now the empty space inside
is a field plagued with landmines,
handguns with hair triggers,
and when I flexed that unfamiliar misery
I could see demons
caressing the pins on grenades
with their tongues
even in amity,
even in my fondest memories,
even innocence

brandishes a serrated edge,
the aftertaste of jadedness.
I’m angry now, not lost.
I’m angry now, not trapped.
I’m angry now, not a million other
words that mean denounced.
Sleep robs all my kitchen drawers
and sharpens all my knives,
and the warmth of my hearth
is a crawl space of syringes
with bright candy colors labeled
with names I can’t pronounce.

It asks for help except
you might not be able to hear it
over the shouting and breaking glass.

If I Go Missing, Look Here First

There’s a spot on the lake shore
I have chosen to end it all
not too far a walk
from the 47th Bus stop
and it calls to me on nights
when home is a bloodstain
left behind by a murdered language,
on days the walls are suffocating
and the words are empty,
floating belly-up, eyes dumb
in the untenable disquiet,
it calls to me

I know all the routes from
all the starting points
and I’ve taken to keeping
the exact fare in my pocket
and it’s probably the least
heavy thing in my person,
that place

If it’s water, it will take me home

Even if it’s just Michigan on
the opposite shore, it’s water
and I choose it
to carry away the part of me
that will no longer need anchor
or step into land
or breathe air into lungs.
Instead I will be its blue,
the unspoken out of the lips
of the unchanging
and the winds will be
of another world,

harmless, faraway voices
instead of movement
and the violent stirring of waves
that warn of death as an ending,

and what I touch won’t matter
so don’t hold on too tight.

If you find me a few days
later about a mile from
the concrete barrier,
it won’t be me anymore,
but only the part that has
become a burden, which I
struggled with for a long time
in honor of you, that by then
I will have been free of,
the absolution that the water
in all its massive volume
and unrelenting cannot
claim as its own without
needing to spit out the bones,

too impure.
The water would have
taken me home.
Don’t hold on too tight.
Remember that I jumped
because I love you.

Totem

(New Year’s Day, 2019)

What things eventually add up to
after the drawn blood and the grudges
become horizontal, weight of lead
on the small of your back arguing
with sleep, too early for dreaming:
knife edge of regret in free fall
at right angles with your spine.
It is morning, the corners of the
room say. There is a part of this
that is drunk, or must have been
drinking, to unravel the hours
with such relentlessness. But I only
remember the details with painful
clarity, x-ray vision through walls
of my own making; exploitation of
a weakness I continue to choose.
The only indomitable thing is
the resolve to maintain an illusion
for a short time, until the doors
close, until the strength caves,
until it all flatlines in the dark
with no witnesses.

The icon is pristine
and the red cape remains intact.

Don’t Say I Didn’t Try

I tried speaking to you across your pain,
tried finding a footing halfway between
your unspeakable and my unspeakable—
the sting of trusting the wrong heart,
the fatal error of assuming that life
was simple, that home was a place,

but I was only raking through sawdust,
awkward silences and contrived laughter
swallowing the light, impenetrable,
and the gray fine enough to stain
our clothes, our fingers,
the otherwise clean slate

you don’t recognize kindness anymore

there are maps of unbending in your eyes
and downward spirals on your shoulders

convex, your enmity
you reflect all my words back to me
upside down, as if
every attempt at softness were burning you

dear child, you’ll learn
you may not run out of lies
but you’ll run out of people to lie to

ours is a shrinking desert

you’ll become an echo chamber unto yourself

I tried reaching out to you across the pain
but maybe I don’t know how, maybe
I’m no longer broken enough for you
to feel safe around,
and you closed the door.

There aren’t many open doors left.

Of Stepmotherhood and Loud, White Walls

Both the elephant and the room
are stuck in my throat.
I am choking and my self-worth
is starting to turn purple.
She has folded my home
into corners, creases
that cannot be undone,
conversations squared away
and time spent in layers.

The mirrors. Corrupted light
the texture of eggshells.
All the words unsaid where
one lie can kill the switch.
All the questions unasked.
We forgot to add a clause for
disrespect in the contract.

The contempt chafes.

I try to grow
into a bigger person while
squeezing all my needs into
the soundless space
between flesh and skin,
the thin, vicious line
between surrender and rage.

Forever / at the Five-Year Mark

Too early a certainty
we were, and too illusory.
Would I now spend the rest of
the noiselessly peeling years
skirting around the doubt
that is blasphemy
to my last surviving dogma?
I’ve written a hundred poems
until you got tired of reading,
and a hundred more after that
slightly more honest, angrier
metaphors for the truth,
but not the truth.
Too big and too sharp and
there is no room for any more
wounds or mercies, as precise
and invasive as surgeries
(my heart is a proverb
for a scalpel that I hold
in my hand).

We are saved
but irreversibly altered
and none of the old reasons survive.
Who loved whom, and still does,
when our old ambitions
become strangers and our most
earnest prayers never existed
in the rewriting?
I’m sorry for deceiving you
with the stubbornness I mistook
for constancy, the proclivity
for roots I mistook for a talent
to stay happy in one place.

All these words
and none enough
for this unhappiness.