this is how

May 1st, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

there are bones in the back of your car,

rattling as you shift gears, turning out of our driveway.

linger on, says the stereo, says

the window down, says the

bright pike ahead of us. linger on.

 

this is how I met you

 

for weeks we unpack ourselves

under waterfalls or on our way to them

this is where I’m from you tell me

pointing to your grandmother

to the tulip poplar

to the tattooed armadillo

 

this is how I know you

 

in the winter you bring everything green

inside, spilling it across the floor. limbs &

twigs & flowers boughed across your

lap, nesting & weaving. you look

up at me smiling.

 

this is how I remember you

 

and that day in the kitchen, the

window cracked open, water boiling.

you came home different, emerging from

a night of ugly truths & hard lines, where you

refused to do anyone else’s emotional labor,

refused to be called back to sleep.

from now on you said. from now on.

 

this is how I met the fire in you

(this is how I met the fire in me)

 

from now on, you say, your boot pushing

the shovel into the soil. you’re bringing all of the

green outside, eager & abundant, the honeysuckle

thick as rain. you cultivate the small & sweet, the

beautiful, the resilient:

blooming

pivoting

deepening

 

this is how you come alive.

 

Helen means light

February 5th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

I can hear you from the window
of my blue room
you’re walking up the hill, singing to yourself,
an unexpected voice, a lantern,
deep & strong & unafraid
your voice is a thread
to

the blue I find in your life always comes as a surprise
I am always looking for blue & there you
have it, the sudden appearance of the sea
drawn through a forest, a surprise blue which
is of course the best kind of blue

and of course the card I drew for you this morning isn’t
the epilogue, though it is the stillness of hope, the star that follows
the tower, they are two sides of the same card, hope & its
partnership to destruction, a forest burned to the
ground so new life may grow so that you may emerge
hovering above a still-beating body of water in the moonlight
so that a person may break open & pour out
cool water from the wound

I know what it’s like to be spun around what
its like to be told the ground beneath your
feet is actually the sky & you are falling & have
been falling for longer than you thought. I know what
it’s like to get lost in your own mind, to emerge
stumbling forward. I know what it’s like
to walk up the hill, my own voice ahead of me,
a rope pulling me forward, up the hill where the
lights in the house are on & your voices are ropes too
hoisting me up & your voices are ropes too
that form a net when I fall, I know what
its like to walk up the hill when
the stars are out & the moon is behind a cloud,
when the lights are on & I surprise myself
by singing: I know what it’s like to be led home.

 

 

l i a r

January 27th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

every night I dream more
horses die slaughtered
on a borderless hillside
and every morning I wake up
screaming liar I get my friends
my family screaming liar on camera
I invite them to scream liar I
wrench it from them with the lies
they know they’ve been sold by the
adults in the the room those liars
and they are children screaming liar so
hard they cry and gasp for air and the
video plays like this horses dead on
the hillside the camera pans and there is
no end to the pan to the circle of broken
bodies there is no end to the scream
liar never ends you never hear the
final note it is one voice eclipsing
truth eclipsing lies eclipsing truth
if you just believed me how much
would it hurt you how much would
it really hurt you I’m still not sure
what more you could possibly want
liar will you burn the horses liar will
you eat them liar or let them rot liar
or tell everyone they are not horses
but criminals who chose their fate
liar who asked for something akin
to a life and found your lies beneath
their feet lies like the tunnels in the ground
like the earthquake like the severed spine
a life like a phantom limb its feel its shape
so real and still invisible no way to prove that
it’s part of you will always be part of you
if you cut off the dead their absence is part
of you this land will always feel will always
feel them gone the scariest thing about you liar
you’ll never be full which is to say any
truth that threatens your lie becomes a gnawing
hunger and you can’t you won’t eat our dead
so yes that’s the camera panning trying
to show just how many horses died and how their
beautiful broken bodies once ran free in a
dream always in a dream in an unfinished dream

 

did you miss it?

December 2nd, 2016 § 0 comments § permalink

by Alexandra Axel

Prayer Cushion

December 2nd, 2016 § 0 comments § permalink

prayer cushion by alexandra axel

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

 

I.
it’s
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

 

 

 

soft shoulder

June 3rd, 2016 § 0 comments § permalink

 

soft shoulder
soft face in the rearview mirror
sonoma
bumper sticker read
over and over

again and again
the almosts
of coastlines
and roadways

always almost touching
the soft shoulder
of the road
of the shore

to shoulder it,
to know it?

salted air
insisting the unsayable
(cracked open, and consumed)

car behind the car behind the car
behind the car

the edge of the edge of
almost there

 

 

Dear Keri Hulme,

May 21st, 2016 § 0 comments § permalink

I knew Simon P. Gillayley. I knew him in my bones before I ever set foot in your book. I knew the words, I knew the homes, I knew the sea.

Sixty pages to go and I am already in mourning. Even if this were the first reading, I know what’s coming. The book itself is finite, characters confined to a wordcount, the binding taped backed together, the final blank page.

Your book said what I mean. It’s a mirror, reflecting all of my fragments back at me as a whole. It’s a window, making playthings of the outside. It is my wildest imagination worked and weaved by the hands of a truly skilled master.

Kerewin Holmes. Keri Hulme. All of you that you poured into this book became the seawater I drink. And now comes the thirst. The book is a vessel, not a faucet.

I write bad poetry, trying to wriggle out of this feeling. Of simultaneous loss and gain. Of a story that is only a wave—here, reaching, reaching—and then, receded, gone.

Of the ache I hold in being a witness.

I sleep with the book underneath my pillow, asking to meet it in the shadowspace of my mind, the screen on which my impossible desires can play out.

And if the impossible could—might—? I would dissolve myself into the three of them: Simon, Joe, Kerewin. Bind myself inextricably through them. The truth they tell is far greater than the one I can hope to live in.

There’s the wound. (I knew we’d find it.)

To be opened wide and left like that.

And I’m reminded of my first reading of the bone people. For the next year, everything I created was an attempt to sink the story into my life. To give Simon P. Gillayley substance off of the page.

In 2008, here are the words I found:

 

XI.
Simon is
                   quaking pennies upon train tracks
And us is rattling bones by the word,
Raptured, among the cold and electric.

Us is meeting the edge,
                    staring down a rushing freedom
And a life of mornings.

 

Simon P. Gillayley
I think I know what Jesus feels like

When I realized your character was known
Like meaning before language tied it up
Your silence roused something regrown in me
Words easing and blooming around thorns.

It is when your heart presses
Against the membrane of belief
That fills the chambers with what feels like blood
But I think it might be love.

 
2016. And the words I have are just these:

Once again, I’m opened wide and left like that.

 

Ever gratefully,
Your reader.

 

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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.

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