2010s · Poetry · The Unnamed Algorithm

Skin As Thick As Walruses

We stopped panicking ages ago.
We take a deep breath.
One of us takes a turn
and we run the fire drill.
You want us in a crisis—
we get calmer—
we listen for the beats.
We can walk
on a turbulent plane
balancing plates and
babies on our hips.

We can direct you during disaster.
We can cover our heads,
protect our fragile necks,
and look you in the eye
while singing a peaceful song.
We know how to keep a steady hand
when cutting the wires.
We know this too shall pass.
We hum the song of the screaming siren.
We have skin as thick as walruses.

When it happens—
itallslowsdown
theearthquakes
theexplosions
thecarcrashes.
We do not cry—
we do not feel it—
those are luxuries
for a child born into chaos.

Those assigned to protect us
were those who sinned against us,
used us as shields, caught us
in friendly fire, or turned
and looked the other way.

We learn
hyper-vigilance,
a constant state
of preparation
for impact.
One foot ready to run
—smile at your teacher—
but keep one fist clenched
and over time it fuses
into our breath
so there are no
caught-off-guards.

No shock when your bags
are in the car before
you ever unpacked them—
no hesitation in the middle
of the night—it’s time to leave—
time to keep the clothes on your back.

And your mother crying means you
make your own dinner and your
sister screaming means you keep
your eyes down—stay out of the way—
but be ready to pick out
the shrapnel— put the chairs back
on their feet—hold your breath—

don’t wake the bear— don’t crack
the eggs—don’t make him mad— don’t
cross the line— don’t cry now—don’t
need—don’t look up— don’t be
a kid— don’t let your guard down—
don’t flinch—don’t blink—don’t

We will walk through fire.
We will save your babies
and you can thank us
for pulling the earth up
on wide shoulders
or else the orbit will fail.

First published in Disorder: Mental Illness and Its Affects.

2010s · Conversations with Gravel · Poetry · The Unnamed Algorithm

Pulp-Plastered

I’ve changed my mind
I want the blood bath
the tar-stained fingernails
the gut-black stairwell

I’ve grown too good at defending
It’s too quiet and forgetting
I want to pull out eyelashes
lick the spiny hairs

I’ve already been smattered
pulp-plastered, rib-caged
I learned to breathe in smoke
find oxygen hung on particles

I want to sink my teeth in
crack the porcelain
kiss the blood from the edge
of his full dark mouth

First published in Camel Saloon.

2010s · Poetry · The Unnamed Algorithm

Yellow

I am seven
yellow-blonde girl
with missing teeth
wearing someone else’s clothes
I smile for the camera
I don’t remember
where I am
there are so many rooms
so many stops
I am never there long enough
to know if I will miss it

I keep following my mother
my brother, too, in the car
we drive for days and months
I forget the names
of all my teachers
just shadows of school yards
they say I need glasses
I have too many absences
I think this is normal
don’t all children hold secrets
like packs of gum
at the bottom of their pockets

I love my mother
I believe her implicitly
I walk in my sleep
in every different house
to find her
I am empty without her
so we keep our clothes in bags
and in the car
they are my sister’s clothes
or someone else who outgrew them

she cuts my hair short
to get rid of the lice
it’s up past my ears
I cry like a widow
yellow-blonde hair
corpses lying under my chair
I can go back to school now
the fourth one this year

twenty years later
I will return here
it will be so much smaller
the rooms will have moved
and ghosts of yellow-blonde hair
will wander in the shadows
of school yards

First Published in Elsewhere Lit.

2010s · Poetry · The Unnamed Algorithm

My Friends Who Write Poetry

Our words swing from threads
across our chest. They pull,
unraveling thin lines into
a soft jagged mess.
Some of you fight it,
snip those frays clean,
tuck in all the evidence.
Some dig fingers deep
wearing fringe coats
long into summer nights.
I know a poet when I see
your words dangling,
dragging, spilling like
sloppy rainbows
out from our pockets.

First published in Uno Kudo.

2010s · Conversations with Gravel · Poetry · The Unnamed Algorithm

Frost

When do we lay these sticks down?
Having been rubbed raw of revival
no sparks enough for flames—
I am too tired to promise I’ll wait
faithful for another dawn.
You are more in love with saving the fire
than actually keeping us
warm and free from that frost that hangs
on branches above our heads—
it’s been itching at us for years.
I’m going inside the house now,
I will leave the door unlocked
but I won’t leave it open.
I won’t call out to you again.
My words caught in cold breath
as I pull off wet feet,
hang them on wires
stretching for decades.
Say goodbye in white crystal
particles drifting into the black.

First published in The Rainbow Journal (November 2014)

2010s · Poetry · The Unnamed Algorithm

Unnamed

Write about important things
things that move me
things that crush me

Write about hurricanes
and avalanches
the earthquakes of my soul

It’s the grit beneath
my fingernails
it’s the cartilage in
my vertebrae

I am driven to expose it
to pull it out
hold it up
to the light

I am only the messenger
of all the beauty
underneath the common face
beauty in the unheard voice

I hear it
I draw the letters
to form the words
to give it name

First published in Hedgerow: A Journal of Small Poems.

2010s · Conversations with Gravel · Poetry · The Unnamed Algorithm

Scent Stained

You are the mistake I want to make
I will wrap myself in your red flags
and let you peel them off
one silk layer at a time

You are the regret I want to have
I’ll bind you in my caution tape
lay on a bed of warning signs
cold metal against warm skin
cools your burning in my eyes

You are the fucked up mess
I want to roll around in
like a mud happy dog
drenched in your scent
I will not shake you out

How do you unsense me?

(First published in East Jasmine Review)

2014 · Poetry · The Unnamed Algorithm

Dust Universe

when sun falls in dim slants
through holes in thin curtains
you can see the universe of dust
they have not traveled here
but revealed by narrow sunbeams
in the quiet light of morning
suddenly, I am afraid to breathe
the enormity of it
billions of particles floating
hovering like microscopic gnats
when I see them swarming
I can’t let them in my lungs
molecules of dead skin and ash
lit up as thick as stars flickering
landing in my living room
I can’t tell anyone how
we are always swallowing
parts of each other
I have to keep it secret
so I open up the curtains wide
for ancient light to swallow
this exact moment in time
and deliver it to the past

First published in East Jasmine Review.

2014 · Poetry · The Unnamed Algorithm

The First Him

It’s home movies on a reel-to-reel.
Light is always dim, pouring in
from thin covered windows.
He is carpenter, framing houses.
Long days in the sun tan his skin,
make him sleep late on weekends.
We play Ambulance anytime I bump my head,
scrape my shin. He lifts me over his shoulders
and mocks sirens rushing hurried to hospitals.
He lays me down like a patient and makes me giggle,
fingertips under the arms, across the belly.
For seconds, I forget.
I am a laughing four-year-old unafraid.
Until I am not. Until the looming frame of him
scrapes ceilings, pulls in the weight of rooftops
down into the darkest room, windows covered thick.
He does not lock his door. I play the secret game
of Find the place he is not. Stay quiet enough
and he won’t see you close the door.
He will not call after you.
Scratches flicker across film spliced memories
as the reel hums, tick-tick-tick-tick-tick.

First appeared in East Jasmine Review.