table of contents
pushing my thumb against the flesh
of an overripe heirloom tomato,
i forget tomorrow and everything else.
until the shriveled up old man
(looming over bags of potatoes)
Asks my natural hair color.
i stare at the black holes in his teeth,
try to retrieve whoever i was before this.
when i can’t hold my breath any longer
i pull back the hat, exposing my roots.
he nods slowly, as if understanding.
i am afraid his teeth may pop out,
like candy from a pez dispenser.
i’m just joking with you, he says,
and finally leaves (no potatoes).
i watch until he turns the corner.
it isn’t until i look back down that i notice
the juice, dripping from my wrist like blood.
I came from potholes puddled by
the cries of my fatherless friends
and the stale piss stench of Shae
Beasy’s two-bedroom one-bath.
Three Bath and Body Works candles
in every room never masked the scent,
only gave a sugar plum balm to dog shit.
I spent many nights washing my own feet
in the sink of her bathroom, watched
intently by the Mickey Mouse wallpaper,
after stepping in piss or shit or vomit,
careful not to use a white towel.
We didn’t talk about it, just
breathed through our mouths,
while her mother collected coupons
for more three-wicks to burn.
When the other girls came over
I wondered if they could smell it, too.
Or if their cloud of Pink perfume
was enough to smother everything.
If Shae noticed the scent,
she was good at ignoring it,
the same way she ignored Haley
holding a pair of scissors to my ponytail.
Once, one of the many Yorkie puppies
took a leak on my sleeping bag.
The other girls giggled and screamed,
grateful, as always, not to be me.
Sinking to the tile of the bathroom floor,
feet sticky and face flushed,
I called my father and asked him
when the laughter would stop.
Nana and Haha’s
Three stories of memories,
where a dead dog’s bones tremble under the anthills,
where honey-oak branches rustle in quiet winds.
Untouchable, unstained: barefoot baseball and movie marathons,
holiday parties and swing rides to the sky.
Tucked away under the midnight staircase lies mother,
sweating out vodka and swishing leftover powder
around the crevices of off-white teeth.
This once wild-haired, bony-freckled beauty
rots here in the darkness:
broken dreams, bursts of tears, yellow bones.
I dream of her drowning in pills;
I dream of her leaving me on a busy street to die.
She echoes in my brain like a ringworm swirling under skin.
I can smell old leather and peach perfume and
the stale breath of a once-familiar old man.
I can feel the cold, soft skin of his doe-eyed wife on my fingertips;
I can see the sunlight swirling through the beautiful stained glass;
I can hear the hum of the wooden ceiling fan,
the phantom clippings of a family dog that died moments before I came home:
My First Loss.
But mostly I feel bits of her in me,
when I cough or sniff or go to the doctor’s.
Yes, I feel bits of her in me,
when I breathe or cry or ask for help.
Oh god, I feel bits of her in me,
toenail clips and leather and peaches,
and the once golden part of her skin
begging me to run far, far away.
Today I thought about the way
words form in our mouths—
the air pumping our cheeks basketball round
and flaking chapped lips turning inward,
forming mere consonants into metered sound,
tongues sneaking through parted teeth
and spit oozing through the cracks
down, down, down,
into the hollow pocket of our lower lip
I thought of how the feel of the construction
of the Portuguese word “cafuné” is nearly
as gentle as the act itself—
tiptoeing around a beauty that can’t
be directly translated into English
but can be wholly felt in the light
breath released mid-word,
the gentle bite of the lower lip,
and the knowledge that the word exists at all
How exactly are you meant to gather yourself—
pucker and round your lips appropriately—
to tell the person across from you
that they played an intrinsic part in the
construction of the You you currently are
without feeling you are giving yourself away
Do the parentheses and crescent moons forming
in the outers of my cheeks not bellow admiration
because I can’t seem to say I love you without
touching my tongue to the roof of my mouth
and bleeding through the next syllable on impact
Is that book I’d given you still dusting above your television
and could you not infer that my willingness to part
with an extension of myself meant I’d memorized your phone
number the day we’d first met
My arms are fully extended and shoving
crinkled eyes and borrowed things and brushing knees
and calls in threes and diverting looks and
worn out books and quality time and shaky sighs
under your eyes I’m sorry I can’t curve my lips
and chew on vowels correctly I’m sorry I’m swallowing
niceties whole and you can’t shove your arm down the
narrow of my throat and sift through all the goo for the Good Stuff
aphasia’s a lousy thing and I never learned to move my mouth that way
creatures of the night
Burned into my eyelids is the memory of my mother
leaning over my thin body, blonde hair coated in moonlight,
pulling a blue blanket up to my chin, whispering ghost stories
of girls we don’t know or care about.
I picture their dismembered bodies in shallow graves, severed limbs,
sputtering bloody hearts, purple necks. Shadows spin across her face
from a night-light in the wall, words unravel from her mouth
the same endless twisting stream.
Don’t be like these girls, these dumb girls who trust too easily and
wake up dead in the bed of a man’s truck. Men chase and men coerce
and men capture and men kill. Those are just things men have done
and will always do. Men are not like us.
Boys are not inherently bad. I think bad is a thing taught and
groomed and played with, and boys are precursors to men
who either know suffering or don’t. Once, you were just a boy,
I was just a girl. There’s something romantic about our past states of being.
Now, I know you like I’ve known my own shadow,
biting at my heels, stretches of darkness down the sidewalk behind me.
You are bright glowing eyes, a hot weight pressed into my spine.
Give me decapitated roses and breathe vodka down my nose again,
follow me through the dark and haul me off into uncertainty,
where nothing exists except the two of us and your cold little eyes.
If I were a bird or an angel you might clip my wings–, stroke my chin
until I learn comfort in this cage you’ve made.
So, when she finds my purple heart writhing on your floor, she’ll say,
I told you so, I told you so. I’m sorry if that hurts your feelings, that she
assumed the worst of you. I’ll lick the blood from your wound like a good girl
and sharpen the knife you intend to kill me with if it makes you feel better.
Metered Dose Inhaler with a spacer clenched in the sweaty hand while
dreaming of Nikes
and cherry blossoms fall like smoldering
ash as the dark-salmon-skinned baby laughs and—
I wish I had a daughter to forgive me.
Do you feel that? An endless breeze when Eve doesn’t eat
the apple. Do you smell that? Tulips. (Ad Rem,
but not quite). Perfect. Soft,
but not quite. Canted towards the sun, but never swallows.
The pistil is the first to shrink.
The little girl thinks under her shower,
“What if there was no sin?”
She fears Jim Carey in The Truman Show.
You have to feel rage to feel good, she knows, but she hates
when her mom chokes her for being a pig and—
did you hear about the Sockeyes
bearing their children just to die? Useless.
treadmills or plastic plants or forgiveness when you try.
If self-respect causes pride and desolation, then
what’s wrong with grace or a different type of nothingness?
I’m still unsure. Irresolute. Unresolved. Scared-of-fucking-
The girl squeezes her eyes…
a neck topped by sweaty curls running inside the sun and—
I wish I didn’t have asthma.