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.

Inaudible, Palpable

Is this how summer dies

I have started disappearing
behind near-opaque walls
of silence, where the past
does not have a name
and I do not have to
repeat anything, no mistakes
left to gather myself from.
There are no more circles
to go around or compromises
that erode what we have built,

no nights that end
with my loving you
a little less than
I did before.

Broken Mirror

I probably won’t be able to ask
you the question without
disrespecting my own past,
so I won’t ask you

I won’t ask, for instance
what it is about that flame
that makes you unbuckle from
the safety of your own better
judgement, lie to your family
and take the late night train
towards the same place you
had needed to be rescued from,
the same man who had put you
out in the street in the middle
of an Indiana blizzard,
the same man who had sent you
to the ER with a broken face,
and for what, just so you
could embrace again and again
the possibility of burning

I won’t ask either what you
could be seeing that all of us
who love you might be missing,
as you sit among roomfuls of
shadows where you are obviously
not welcome, as you sleep through
the loud voices of his detrimental
devotion, that convinces you each
dawn to stay another day, to think
that it’s OK to let your child
see you being treated so low,
to cut off from your soul
all the things you’ve worked for

You won’t hear from my lips
that I sincerely want to know
how far you think you can take this
before you’ve exchanged all
the treasures of your being
for what, a hungry silence by his
side, a handful of scrap affection,
and some cheap reminders of
how he used to make you feel

and how much you think
his promises are worth
on the darkest hour when
your choices start emptying
their bullets and make
target practice of the collage
of your dreams on the walls

and do you love yourself
and what you think that means

Beautiful Wrong Places

He was never
all where he was,
and that defined him.

He was a country of
contradictions, a thirst
and a glass half full,
an inevitable denouement
in reverse. Loving him
was a doomed adventure

and I knew that,
as we sat talking
over the buoyant hours
between midnight and dawn,
our gaping differences and
mutual nakedness becoming
indistinguishable diluted
in the phosphorescent sea
that was Dimasalang at night
right outside his window.

Three years laying claim
to my prolific roses and
my proud, proud thorns
just a footnote
to his timeline

he left his heart
in his native Nigeria
as he followed his mother
to her next chapter

the loneliness we’d faithfully
chipped at together
just a casualty of war
that he fought inside him,
the part I never got invited to

he’d only been sleepwalking
the whole time, and I was only
a symbol in one of his dreams
from his untamed subconscious.

His passions were
slow-burning fires that left
rings of soot on the ceiling
and my flesh sometimes felt
like the expensive paper
he rolled his weed in
after the spirit had taken on
its second form.
He’d talk then about the strangers
he’d met on Taft or Blumentritt,
how it always tripped him out
that their faces were familiar
but their skin was too light.

His silences would descend
between us with little warning,
like ulcer attacks. More than
once they bleached the acacias
along University Avenue
into husks of lost days.

There wasn’t enough
of the pieces he had left
to cheat on me,
but I knew he wanted to.
The melody of his pidgin,
when he spoke, was torture
because it always sang
not to other women, but
to the impossible distance
that made them so perfect.
I was the best thing he’d
found on the other side
of a mountain he never
wanted to climb:
I wasn’t home.
Home was bigger than both
of our futures combined,
and this moment was
a cramped box in
a warehouse of cramped boxes.

We held on only
to the charm of anomaly.
As meaningful as eclipses
are to gathered roses.

Loving Quasimodo

My soul is not the same shape
as my body
and doesn’t hurt the same way.

So when I tell you I come
from a past of abuse
but have no bruises
or scars to show for it
I hope you realize I need
a different kind of rescue

and a healing that follows
no straight path

you don’t watch one part
for signs of bleeding
or keep the same few bones
in splints or tourniquets

you watch for triggers

you read between the lines
where I don’t seem to respond
with an attitude you might
expect from those
whose childhoods were soft
and whose coming-of-age
is blanched in sunshine

you wait for madness to strike
and dance with it
until it slowly passes
and welcome me back

you save me from myself
by being there
by letting me borrow your courage
when mine runs out
and take temporary asylum
in your peace
I’ll be carrying luggage
but I won’t unpack
and I’ll take them back out with me

you take the words I mean
and those I throw over my shoulder
like they are nothing
just to hear how loudly
they crash on impact,
bend them into shapes of questions
and leave them by my bedside
so I can straighten them out
and apologize
and make everything right

you take my trust
and never ever hit me with it
otherwise you either
break it or break me

and my soul will have to
amputate another limb
or grow another organ
to compensate.

My soul is not the same shape
as my body…

The Queue for Luggage at the Terminal

There’s a part of me
that loves you by training my eyes
to focus on the shining light,

and a part of me that loves you
for all that you have overcome

loves the shards of your character
that survived,
though not unscathed,
while the rest of the pieces
got thrown into the fire, shards
with edges that may be too sharp
and unsafe to touch
but around which
I have chosen to wrap my hands
at the risk of getting wounded,

because that’s what trust is.
We either get matching scars
or we learn to handle
and be handled
so that the place we meet
marks the end of the roads
of hurt we have either suffered
or caused on others.

And the place where we surrender
the parts of ourselves
we admit we cannot fully know
without getting undone
is the place where we are loved the most.

Postpartum

…………………………(This poem appeared in The Perch, Fall 2017.)
.
.

There is nothing of me to touch
but stretch marks and bite marks
and the shapes left by accidents
with ovens and knives.
There is nothing inside me to awaken.
I haven’t slept for what feels
like a hundred years.
There is nothing of my time
that still knows the old things
that bring me joy,
least of all desire.
There is nothing left
of the way I used to understand
life, and what it takes to be alive.
There is no understanding.
There is no space here
for a step back
for a question
for a deep breath
that isn’t a pause between
two things I have to do
if I don’t want the world to fall apart
while I am on the clock.
There is no silence to spare,
only the noises of clutter
and burdens of need
and the rage of all the tears
that I have no right to weep.
There is no peace.
He is unhappy because I am not
the same woman.
I am unhappy because
he is unhappy
even after all that I have done.