September 2nd, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

when i was a child

my father told me marilyn monroe was beautiful

despite a small brown circle above her lip


when i was older

my father showed me pictures of the women he went on dates with

thick cakes of make up

dyed and thinning blonde hair


my father told me stories of the women he went on dates with:

vain cruel insecure


when i was a child

we had many large photographs of marilyn monroe

including one above the couch

where i sat beneath her

where his dates sat beneath her

we became a thumb

caught in the frame


people ask: was she really even that beautiful?

people ask: or did [they] decide who was beautiful and who was not?


people say: [someone else] is much more beautiful


i have no interest in individual beauty

either everyone is beautiful or no one is

beauty is so often cruel

beauty is always cruel


i hope i am beautiful

i look in the mirror and i don’t see it

i see a thumb caught in the frame


i say i love myself and the despite gets swallowed

despite: hair

despite: nose

despite: skin

[she was beautiful despite]


my father wrote a book on empowering women

my father came from a shattered cruel woman

thick cakes of make up

dyed and thinning blonde hair


i hope i am beautiful one day

one day i hope to look in the mirror

and see the ocean instead


one day i will look in the mirror and see

something big and beautiful

and cruel


love takes your shape

February 11th, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink



tell me how to love you best

with words that feel softest on your body

and pivot your heart godward


tell me how to love you best

at sunrise, to the sound of you coming


tell me how to love you best

when the world has weathered you

when a slammed door

sets you running from a buried memory

when hope becomes ash on your tongue


tell me how to love you best

and tell me how it changes


tell me how to love you best

when every day is deadly


tell me how to love you best

and tell me how to feed you


tell me how to love you best

and tell me how it changes


tell me, so i can show you

that love is water

and you are its ocean


Fifty-Five Notes to My Ex, Collected in a Box Under My Bed

December 7th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

During the first week of the break up a friend gave me a box and a stack of blank notes. She said to write down every thought I have of you and put it in the box. I kept both the box and blank notes next to my bed. For thirty days, when I woke up and when I went to sleep, I would write down the thoughts I had of you. These thoughts are both liberating and painful to read. I fear that I don’t come off very well. But this is what the truth looks like, I think. The thoughts I had are as follows, over the course of a month, in random order. This is what heartbreak looks like, even when it is done consensually and lovingly.

  1. What if the future is just me being secretly in love with you?
  2. I saw a flash of your picture on a friends phone today.
  3. I wonder what you’re doing.
  4. I am both thinking of you less and less and still factoring you into every decision.
  5. I’m afraid you no longer love me or care about me.
  6. I wouldn’t be writing this novel if it wasn’t for you breaking my heart.
  7. The anger I feel toward you is a wall—I don’t want to go back to taking care of you.
  8. I’m still holding out hope for you
  9. I slept with some else today. She felt differently than you did, came differently than you did. This is nothing new. But I noticed it.
  10. You are starting to fade from my memory.
  11. Cigarettes have been incredibly effective at erasing my feelings for you. Except now I’m in love with smoking.
  12. Once again you’ve ruined the Mountain Goats for me
  13. You taught me a lot about love. I taught myself more.
  14. At first it was uncontrollable pain that compelled me to write these notes and put them in a box. Now it’s a way to recognize the (smaller) space you hold inside of me. Every day that space shrinks. I wonder what ghost of you will linger on.
  15. I’m afraid that you have forgotten me
  16. You had two chances with me. Now you don’t get me at all.
  17. If I find out you’re dating someone else I will burn your life to the ground.
  18. I’m sorry my email was so cold.
  19. I’m afraid I won’t find anyone better than you. You are so good.
  20. I talked to you on the phone today and you said that you sometimes look at pictures of us, wondering if you made a huge mistake.
  21. I seem to have been successful at burying my love for you.
  22. I wrote you a nice email even though I’m still committed to being angry at you.
  23. Every time I see one of your friends I want to tell them to tell you to go fuck yourself. But I don’t. I’m not asking anyone to hate you. The truth is, there is no one to blame here.
  24. I finished a novel today. I both accomplished a lifelong dream and gave you the biggest fuck you I could possibly think of.
  25. I just want to be held by you.
  26. I’m having a love affair with cigarettes
  27. Honestly, fuck you.
  28. These have become my letters to you, in absence of our communication. Today the moon was either waxing or waning.
  29. I am mourning our future.
  30. Yesterday I realized that we are not getting back together. I wasn’t doing anything special. I just felt it finally.
  31. To be honest, when I hear your name, I think “you can go straight to hell” in exactly the intonation you would have used.
  32. I don’t know what kind of truck you’re driving now so I look for you in all of them.
  33. Why am I smoking?
  34. I miss being your priority.
  35. How many times can I refresh my email until there is one from you?
  36. It feels so painful to hear others talk about sex and relationships.
  37. It’s unbelievable how many things remind me of you.
  38. Turns out this town is big enough for the both of us.
  39. I’m no longer counting down the days until we talk again.
  40. If you hadn’t broken my heart, I wouldn’t have written this novel.
  41. It’s been almost a month since we last spoke and the end is kind of in sight.
  42. I’m afraid that any reference to New Orleans will always hurt. I thought I would lose you to it. Turns out I lost you while you were still here.
  43. What if we are never close again?
  44. I wrote a whole book and I still miss you.
  45. And still—I’m dreaming of you every night.
  46. There was an email from you today but it wasn’t just for me. I read it and then deleted it. I don’t need you.
  47. Will I always be in love with you?
  48. I miss being held by you.
  49. I have avoided looking at the moon since we broke up.
  50. Who could possibly measure up to you?
  51. I can say your name now without pain ripping through my body.
  52. I have nothing left to give you.
  53. I wish I could tell you the incredible ghost story I heard today. I know exactly the face you’d make.
  54. Every night I dream that we are back together.
  55. I knew every moment with you was precious—and still—I thought we had more time.


Not now.

November 20th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

It finally hit me today that it’s over. It’s been twenty-one days since you broke up with me. I am still in shock, still mourning our future. But today, while I was doing nothing in particular, I realized you’re not coming back, we’re not on pause. And that I need to move on. The grieving process has been a slow undoing, shedding off the layers of you. I still am waiting for you to call and say you’ve made a mistake but the longer I wait the more foolish I feel. I can’t wait forever. And part of me thinks I will always be in waiting, forever. And I feel anger now. At you. For taking up so much space in this town, in my life. I feel anger. I feel anger. I feel anger because my heart wants to make a clean break of it. If I see you, I want to tell you to fuck off. Because you had no right… And here’s where the anger dissolves, and becomes something more complicated. You had every right to take care of yourself. Am I angry at the trauma you went through that made it so you have a difficult time setting boundaries? No, I am saddened by that. Truly, I don’t want you to feel unnecessary pain. Once again, I find that I am begging to hate you and I’m coming up with only love. Am I angry that you’re trying to heal yourself? Of course not. I wish it had happened sooner, I wish we could still be together. I wish I could brush my teeth with you, our socked feet touching. And we could once again ride in my car, singing along to Mariah Carey. I wish I could be in your arms, feeling safe and loved and held. My heart can’t make a clean break of this. I am shedding. Every day without you is another reference point for my life without you. Every day the future looks a little different. There is far less of you in it. Maybe one day, we can laugh and hold each other and sing badly. Maybe one day we can be there for each other to confide in, to bring each other soup and understanding. I don’t know when that day will come. I can’t wait for it any longer. If you want to be with me, you’re going to have to do the work. I’ll be over here, reading by the fire, writing a novel, spending time with my chosen family, cuddling my dog. Maybe one day you’ll be back in that picture. But not today. Not now. It’s over.

The only thing that’s changed

November 14th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

I am still in love with you. The only thing that has changed is that we are not together.


I have to write about you first.

November 11th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

Tomorrow will be two weeks since you ended things. You ended things poorly. At least, that’s not how I would have done it. It was the first time I’ve ever seen you cry. You lay with me for a while and when you left I screamed “no” over and over and over again, so loud I thought my throat would tear open. I cried for days. But that’s how everyone does it, right? We all say: “I cried for days.” By the fourth day I was hiking alone, astonished, repeating: “I have the remarkable capacity to heal.” It’s true. I can heal, I am strong. I have a community that loves me in ways I could never love myself. And yet, I feel lost, I feel empty. I try to make conversation and my lips have only your name.

At first, I thought that I would never be able to trust anyone again. That might still be true. And still, I find myself cultivating trust for you. I do trust that you did what is in your best interest. Things are different with this heartbreak. For one, I still love myself. I feel proud of almost all of my actions. I’m being transparent about how much this hurts. And you are not a villain. All of those talks we had, us and our community, about queer break ups, they set a precedent. I did not ask anyone to hate you or reject you.

One week to the day and I still thought we might get back together. I met you at your place and immediately you said that we were broken up, you needed to be clear about that. That’s when I cried again. I gave you a letter I had written, a letter that I had to go to fedex to print. It outlined the ways we could be together, to heal together, to set boundaries together. I thought we were still in this together. Perhaps in a way we are.

My phone feels empty without you. My email feels empty without you. My mind does not feel equipped to understand how to go from constant communication to nothing. No good morning text, no goodnight moon. I don’t know what you ate today or who you saw or what work you didn’t accomplish or what amazing ways you stood up for yourself and others. You were the person I trusted beyond all others, in ways I never thought possible. I opened up more and more of myself. And still. I know that I was enough. But I still wasn’t enough.

That day, one week later, we lay together, I felt your hand run along my back. My ribs craved you, my mouth craved you, my cunt craved you. I felt you crave me in a way that I had almost forgotten. I remember a few weeks after we had gotten together, you didn’t seem excited to be with me. I told you this and you said that hurt to hear. I was enough and I wasn’t, even then. I know what it’s like to feel bottomless, to fill and fill and fill and still be empty. How long have you been this way?

You had me on my back, naked, except for my boots. You said: if you ever feel like you’re not sexy, remember this moment. That night when you hugged me goodbye, we were all glittered and masked. You said you love me, I said I love you.

How long until we stop being in love? Maybe you’re there already. This breaks my heart, all over again. You are like water through my fingers. The moment I fill up on you is when I start losing you.

Two weeks to the day. Every memory I have brings me to you. You are etched into every road, every building, every corner of my house. The only way I know how to forget you is to retrace every step without you, over and over, until you are a faint line. You are not a ghost, you can’t be forgotten. I am retracing and you are tracing all new lines. It’s just that they are being carved without me.

I think back to those days when we kissed and the whole world was still ours to build. Two weeks ago.

Those days—two weeks ago.


November 11th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

I am discovering days where we where we

Where we kissed and still had the whole world to build.

bush-hog to god

October 10th, 2016 § 0 comments § permalink

There was a time when I needed to shave my head.

The end of October, standing on four years sober. I was broken & leaking & open. It rained. Damp porches, the daylight a closing door. Everything in calendar: days since I moved, days since we ended, days until winter, days sober, days since my last, since my last.

I had the razor already, sheathed, waiting for impulse to strike. A party was being prepared, elsewhere in the house. And then the first kiss: the guzzling blade to hair to scalp. I chose the crown of my head to start with, which is to say I chose to not turn back. Whole calendars lifted & relinquished into the sink. My history. My hair. Burn it down. Raze it to the ground.

To talk about hair is to talk about race, is to talk about gender, is to talk about expectation, assumption & oppression.

For me, to talk about hair is to talk about the little war I’ve been fighting every day for as long as I can remember. All hair, everywhere. Calendars marked by hair. Laser appointments, haircuts, waxing, all Sunday spent in the salon chair, painting chemicals onto my head, straightening a few finger-gathered strands at a time. Days, hours, cm, mm. Darkness, thickness, visibility.

It’s to talk of hormones and femininity and sexuality.

The parasitic wasp, these notions of beauty. So deeply seeded you don’t recognize it as foreign, as not mine. Until you are tearing at your body trying to destroy it from the outside in, while it expands, occupying more, claiming more. Hair: leaves me feeling too repulsive to live with, or to look at. At which point it feels very much like mine, & “it” being what exactly?

They say god hid itself inside of each of us, waiting for us to arrive at a divine moment of self-recognition. I think it must be even further down, beneath all of this other crap. Most of us never get down that deep.

A shaved head is a swung needle, pitched right or left, all of the way: the extremes of spirituality, of bigotry, of illness, of war. It’s to lay bare identity. To uncover, to unframe. I unframed all of the things I thought about myself, pictured confidence first, hoping my mind would follow.

Act as if, they say.

A shaved head, my bush-hog for god.

People believed me, I think. I believed me. And it was true in that regard. It is a mainline to self-love and self-acceptance, this hyper-visibility, real or perceived.

& then the regard of others: Men stopped me on the street and told me I was beautiful (reluctantly flattered; unwillingly welcomed); older women admired (so bold!) and peers praised (badass). I swung on this attention: hooked myself to it, pulled up and up, for a time.

“Are you a boy?” a child asked me. I hesitated, not-sure, suddenly, once again, non-neutral.

& yet the people I was attracted to (who might also be asked if they were boys) seemed further away, my appearance unarticulating my insides: the fluid movement of self from room to room: butch & femme & strength & grace. (Here’s where I want to say “or.” Here’s where I resist intersection.)

Who did I do this for? I asked myself.
Who am I doing this for?

There’s hair and then there’s hair. There’s the glamorized and there’s the war. How good it would feel how free to let it go. To toss the arsenal: tweezers, razors, waxers, lasers, clippers, bleachers, relaxers. When I talk about hair, I talk about both kinds, and they are the same, they are both pain.

I stand on one side: the exhausted I wish this weren’t a thing side, the taming, the fighting back.

Some divide, I see another: one of expression, of making personal, of fighting for, taking back notions of beauty, of worth. Reclamation. The only reference point I have, some keyhole to the other side: the first time we had sex, the hundredth, and every time was different, every time felt like an opening, a shrugging off a lead blanket: the lie we had been told: that we had just one way of fitting together. Sex with you felt like liberation. Felt like coming home. Reclamation.

With this, with hair, I know I’m being sold a lie. I know it and that knowledge does nothing for me. When I talk about my hair, I talk about growing it back, blending back, passing. I recognize the choice. & if I choose nothing?

A shaved head was once a forest fire. A fertile void.

It’s October again. Almost five years since my last, since my last. I suppose I call this place home now. The treeline diminishes. My hair like bristle: the razor, sheathed.

This is the way I know to let time take time.



It’s About a Book

August 24th, 2016 § 0 comments § permalink

I ask my heart, please, never stop speaking to me. I ask that, when I wander far from my dreams, my heart press me and sound the alarm. I swear that, every time I hear the alarm, I will heed its message.

– adapted from The Alchemist


about a book
and the book is you

I look up from the last page
and there you are
ordering a small cup of coffee
from that place off Myrtle

you’re telling me
one hand like a catcher’s mitt in the air
how close you’ve gotten to the flame
how much brighter it burns at this length

the barista slides the small cup toward you
and you make a joke
something like “you’re like my favorite human alive now”
laughing first and louder
it’s that your laugh is a tower


II. next chapter

in whole foods the ceiling is starless, dark
you’re telling me your skin feels like paper
this close to the fire

“sorry” you say
“no sorry” I say


III. next chapter

you’re a gray bubble
worrying about the final chapter
an ellipses, this is you thinking

this is me thinking
of the star who drives
by her own light

who is very much the forest
who is very much the fire
who is very much the tower
who is very much the doe
who is very much the star


IV. final chapter

the author announces
on some late night show
there will be ten more books
each so thick you’ll need three people
to read it

its name will surprise you
it will tell you something about the story
but not everything

it will ask you if you should order
another coffee

it will draw another card
it will show you each brick in a giant tower

it will be a word, underlined, that you can live in
while the rest is written


V. epilogue

and the fire is you




I Couldn’t Quit You.

March 20th, 2016 § 0 comments § permalink

I’ve known no other friendship like the one I had with cigarettes.

I was carried through life by four inch rolls of non-additive tobacco, buoyed along the streets, brought in and out of meetings, waved into introductions, and comforted in goodbyes. Cigarettes saved my life, my sobriety, and my sanity. They were the friend who always picked up the phone, the lover who always came over after hours. When cigarettes eventually began to hurt, I only craved them more. The further I dug my claws into them, the further they dug theirs into me. “This,” I said, “this love I will never let go.”

Cigarettes are that friend that makes you look a little cooler and sexier than you actually are, just by her proximity; that friend whose glow is bright enough for others to bask in. The crackling of burning tobacco and the swift flick of a lighter are still some of the biggest turn-ons for me. What’s a party without a drink in one hand, and a cigarette in the other? What’s a summer night, leaning close to a new crush, talking until the sun rises, without an endless pack to draw out one thin smoke after another? What is more seductive than making eye contact over a lit flame? The sweet taste of the filter between my lips, the tobacco’s honeyed smell—reminders of the potential that one small stick contains. Yes, the potential power. Cigarettes did for me what I could not do for myself. They were my strength, my confidence, my intrigue.

And they were a constant source of underlying anxiety. I relished my image of a smoker but I was desperately afraid of being seen smoking by employers and my family. I was in the business of image management. I was the bright, young woman with a passion for organic food and crafts. And I was the misunderstood, emotionally unstable, chain-smoking writer. The two could never meet. The mental real estate this occupied was enormous.

My first cigarette was a Virginia Slim. Alex Messler, a half-Japanese 14-year-old private school kid with a faded blue streak of hair gave it to me. We were standing at the apex of the traffic triangle in Union Square. A minute before I took my first skeptical drag, I was passionately against smoking. It was an idiotic way to slowly kill yourself and alienate the people around you. But when I was offered a cigarette, I forgot all about my convictions and accepted it as if it had been a twenty-dollar bill. It was the spark of a new friendship. A week later, I had my first full cigarette. A Capri Slim. So thin to hold it now would be like holding a rolled up gum wrapper.

That waif of a cigarette pushed play on a tape that would not stop for another 10 years: When can I have another? Where will I have another? What are my chances of getting caught? How can I buy my next pack? What else do I need to give up to keep cigarettes in my life?

Perhaps this all seems quite ridiculous. There are worse things to be addicted to, right? And everybody is addicted to cigarettes. This addiction is totally unoriginal, as far as addictions go. Imagine if I was addicted to rubbing my naked body against brick walls. What an interesting story that would make. But we don’t choose who we fall for. Or what. Or how hard we fall. Perhaps I developed an insatiable hunger for comfort as a child in response to my turbulent home life. Perhaps I was born seeking it. But by the time I was offered my first cigarette, the stage had been set. Enter comfort. Enter reassurance. Enter relief. Stage right.

In Twelve Step Programs, that hunger is often referred to as a “god-sized-hole.” I couldn’t think of a better way to describe it myself. I felt empty, without fuel for a long drive. A friend once called it her “inner-scratchiness”: a cavity that clawed at my chest from the inside. I had no conception of what was supposed to have gone there. The physical experience of this void was a manifestation of the constant emotional discomfort I had only ever known. I guessed life did not look like this for everyone. But where did I get that slice of serenity that made all things fit? To be clear, cigarettes did not make everything fall into place. What they did do, however, was to provide me with pocket-sized companionship that I could draw on in moments of discomfort (read: all moments).

I told myself that I would quit when I had it all together, for then I wouldn’t need their constant reassurance. I first imagined that age of “having it all together” would be age 15—a year after I had started smoking. That would be enough, I told myself (I was 14 and was completely naïve to the angst adolescence had to offer). Fifteen came and went—my parents divorced that year and there was no way I could break it off with my best friend. So I pushed it back to 18. After all, it made sense to quit when I was in an entirely new environment at college. While David Sedaris went to Tokyo to quit smoking, I would go to Trenton, New Jersey.

As I had hoped, I didn’t have a shred of connection to home at my college— ninety-eight percent of the student body came from New Jersey, with a sprinkling of students from Pennsylvania, Delaware and upstate New York (I was the only student from Manhattan: a point that my ego seized upon). Except for my carton of Lucky Strikes, shipped from Russia, I was connectionless. My plan? I would sit outside the two main dorm buildings, smoking, waiting to be talked to. Cigarettes became my gateway friendship: the group that I later would form would be comprised entirely of smokers and that was our main campus activity. To quit then, if I had had any desire to, would have been (forgive me) social suicide.

So the “age” then became 22. I calculated one year (legally) drinking and chain smoking would give me enough memories of my friend to draw upon throughout the duration of my smoke-free life. Not even halfway through my 21st year, I pushed the age back to 25. Cigarettes and I had really hit our stride. Alcohol provided a constant honeymoon for my cigarettes and me. The key was to keep drinking. Since there was no longer had any legal-age barrier, I drank compulsively (“alcoholically,” is the apt term I later learned). Never have I felt as at ease as I did when I was drunk and chain smoking. It didn’t matter if people were around—drink in hand (and more in the bodega bag at my feet), I was only concerned about sucking face with my smokes. I felt completely free and alive in my self-centric world on an East Village stoop.

I barely made it to twenty-two. I had hit a bottom with drinking and had to put down the glass. Like a good friend, cigarettes stepped in to pick up the slack and if I could have smoked one in each hand, I would have. A pack of American Spirit Lights was my magic carpet that brought me to twelve-step meetings, to my retail job, and back home, waiting in the garage with the ignition on while I slept. My life got very small and very quiet when I stopped drinking but the volume of my thinking became deafening: the neighbors were banging on my door, telling me to turn it down. Cigarettes sifted my thoughts and my feelings, allowing me to sit through some while pushing down the rest.

Quitting in sobriety brought up the very real and very familiar thoughts of suicide. If they go, I go, I reasoned.

This is not a drill.

My relationship with cigarettes was the kind of on-again-off-again relationship you pray to never be in. You see couples go through it and you can’t imagine how they possibly stay together, even though you can’t picture them with anyone else. I have tried to storm out the house on cigarettes after late night fights. I have wasted countless dollars tossing barely smoked packs on impulse-quit attempts (this happened so frequently that I took to leaving them on stoops instead of in trash cans so at least the $12 pack wasn’t wasted but rather regifted). I have broken them in fits of frustration and roughly inhaled them in make-up sex.

“I can’t quit you.”

But really. I couldn’t.

And then one day in October, when the air was crisp and brittle leaves dragged along the concrete, I stopped. Just like that. I woke up with the knowledge that I would be successful this time. It was like someone had suddenly stopped the tape and all of the noise cut off. I wish I had a different ending to this story—truly I do. “I woke up and didn’t have the desire to anymore” is the kind of spiritual magic nonsense I scoffed at. It can’t be personalized and recreated. There are no formulas or steps to pass on. Except perhaps this:

There is a moment when that thought comes you. It says, gently, “it’s time.” This isn’t a new experience—people in all fields and subjects have written about that little (it’s always described as little, isn’t it?) voice that nudges you through a window of willingness to do whatever it is your afraid of facing—quitting cigarettes, writing a novel, leaving the person you thought you were going to marry.

I thought I would spend my life with cigarettes. I thought we would grow old(ish) together, sitting on a porch, drinking whiskey, with the whole day ahead of us. I could not fathom a world in which I would be comfortable enough standing in my own skin to let my little cancer-causing friend go. I could not conceive of a life where I didn’t need a barrier of lit tobacco between you and me to feel safe.

In hindsight, we always know when the relationship is over before it ends, don’t we? Learn the language of instinct. Do all that you can to provide a chamber for that confident little voice to resonate in. Listen for that moment when the mistakes you’ve made and experiences you’ve had finally culminate in a quiet strength to face the unknown. Cigarettes are predictable. What they disguise is infinitely more terrifying and beautiful than I ever imagined.

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing the Recovery category at Alexandra Axel.

  • July 2019
    M T W T F S S
    « May