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.

17 Poems Not About a Lover · 2010s · Poetry

Both Wolves and Sheep Alike

When you look at your sunlight child
baby girl with rainbow eyes
deep dimpled cheek to store your kisses
When you look at her wind-chime twirling
throwing her perfect young mouth
at your carpenter hands
How do you not lock them
around her kitten-soft body
throw her up on mountaintop shoulders
march through clouds, place her safe
far out of reach from giants, ogres
and demons with sweating jaws
How do you not gather armies
to fight in her name
at the mere thought of bruised knees
How, instead, do you wear lambs’ robes
pull her into your ice den
with your hands at her throat
cut words into her belly
fill her with stones
lay her in the river
as the hunter’s trumpet sounds
leave her in the current
let her bleed for decades
to grow old hating
both wolves and sheep alike
How then, do you howl at the moon
when your sunlight child turns black
when she cuts all parts of you off her skin
spits your dead-leaf name from her mouth
How do you howl at the moon
when she lets all her memories of you rot into soil
lets fungus eat all cells inked with your DNA
How do you not throw your own wolf body
into the river—kill the only beast she knew
before she grew claws of her own

 

First Published in East Jasmine Review.

2010s · Poetry

To My Obsessive Brain

1. You are a master of over complicating.
Turn oneplusone into a journey through
a valley plush with blooming, through
greyvine and crushinglimbs, dark intothe
hollowing night.

2. You are a master of over examination.
Conversations in constant playback.
Scratched record withnooffswitch.
Scratched record withnooffswitch.
Scratched record withnooffswitch.

3. You are a master of over loyalty. Same
mascara since 1990. You forget you don’t
havetostay or forgiveanyone or listento
anyone’s silence. It’s not your job to
unsilence them.

4. You are a master of over logic. Tell
yourself when X therefore Y which cannot
be * because it’s not a letter. Letters are
rules tofollow by smartgirls and you have
to be a smartgirl becausefeminism.

5. You are a master of over counterpoint.
The fuckoff because you will neverbe a
girl who doesn’teatcheese. Stop living
inmyhead stop callingevery 6to10
months I still loveyoubut shesgone
and youhaveto say it out loud
say it beforeit becomes stoneagain.
Yourfucking brain.

First published in Incandescent Mind: Issue Three, Selfish Work.

2010s · Poetry

Suffocation Is Anxiety’s Friend

she says
I have paper bags in my throat
she says
I am coughing up light
she says
mother is recycled pulp
she says
he filled them with his shredded drafts
she says
paper-cuts are her father’s tongue
she says
she speaks around them, crumpled masses growing acid soft
she says
sleep was the first lover who left
she says
mother is glue-handle secure
she says
she’ll swallow stones to make them pass
she says
bags will either suffocate or fuel brighter flames
she says
salt-pulp are her father’s hands resting on her shoulders
she says
she’ll wrap her mouth in brown silence
she says
coughing aches her ribcage
she says
I am emptying light

First published in Incandescent Mind: Issue Two.

17 Poems Not About a Lover · 2010s · Poetry

Center of the Nucleus

Another word for father, static
the chaos of electricity in white noise
every pop and crackle of it
holds so many nots
If turned slow motion, we can
hear all the misfittings
how many wrongs inside of us

Another word for mother, lightning
the flash of white against night
it circuits through tree limbs
into heart stops, into heart starts
If turned slow motion, we can
feel the strangled paths
motion of trembling feet stumbling

Another word for family, carbon
the black of what’s left after fire
after smoke and embers suffocate
resting in the ashes

First published in Black Napkin Press.

17 Poems Not About a Lover · 2010s · Poetry

Boy, Emaciating Slow

What will I do with your skeleton bones
when your teeth can no longer hold
the flesh of your lips? What brown eyes
will fill the spaces in your skull
when these ones dry up, dissolve into vapor and dust?
Will your bones keep memories, keep the rhythm
of your laughter locked in marrow—
how your small hands grew into man,
how I kissed them tipped in icing,
wiped them from grass and soil, held them
to my cheek as I sung you to sleep?
What can limbs and ribs and vertebrae do to capture soul?
What does your skin encase when you are sloughing
out from under it?
Where will your soft curls rest
when your scalp surrenders?
When the cords of your throat fray and limp,
how will you say I love you?

First published in Angel City Review.

2010s · Conversations with Gravel · Poetry

Unanswered

She sees how he ruins his own beauty
how before he can leave for the bar
he follows can after can
to cool the fevers in his mind
How he leaves out food
for the fullness of cheap beer
thinks it makes him a tragic man
worthy of writing an elegy
He curses his drunken father
between swigs from cold aluminum
asks about her birthday
He wants her to teach him
about how to clean the shower stall
She is nobody’s mother
though she wants to say
it begins with the need to be clean
but he asks again about her birthday
repeats back her answers
like he’s committing it to memory
She refuses to be his fixer
only drags her nail-bitten fingers
through his unwashed hair
his mouth disappearing at her breast

First published in Hobo Camp Review.

2010s · How to Unexist · Poetry

Dancing with Damage

Sometimes I let Damage win.
We’ve been wrestling for days
on the edge of my teeth.
No matter how much hair pulling
or ear biting, sometimes
I give in.

I curl up like a small child
and lie in her bony lap.
Some may say I wear her
like a cross on my back,
but she’s the one wearing me,
wraps my heart around her like a cape,
splits my head across her knees
using them as shin guards.

As a child, she ran me
like a bully-sister,
warded off the boys
like Buffy with her stake.
She kept all my keys under her tongue
clenched by pit-bull teeth.

I learned to pick my battles.

She can sleep for weeks at a time
in her coffin-bed night.
That’s when I dance all night,
swim moonlight-naked,
run head-first for love,
and make no more apologies.

When she wakes again, she yanks me down,
my legs kicking–my fists punching. I thought
I was done with her. I thought
we’d shared our last breaths–
but we’re here again, now.

So I let her pull me into her embrace,
crying like a knee-scraped school girl.
Then, after a while, D and I lie on our backs,
listen to records as loud as we can,
and sing along until our throats hurt.

First published in On the Grid Zine.

2000s · Healing the Heart of Ophelia · Poetry

Throat

I remember more than I want to admit
More than I can say out loud.
So much of it has never passed
through my vocal chords.
I can recall a picture at will.
I went so far as to type it out.
I can hold the pages in hand,
but I am afraid to see them.
Afraid to hear them read aloud.
It remains in my stomach,
where I stuffed it.
Sometimes it surges up like vomit
and I catch it in my throat.
It’s like a rope pulled tighter.
My pain sits and I can not speak.
I am voiceless.
I find other things to talk about.
It settles back down.
I move on.
I have ulcers.

First published in Healing the Heart of Ophelia (2001).

2010s · Poetry

Some Haphazard Line Tied onto a Kitchen Table

Be here. Be centered. Be a girl on the verge of everything.
Be the wrong kind of naive. Be the wrong kind of experienced.
Be nestled in pine bench seats. Be as bright as fluorescent bulbs.
Be a mother cooking spaghetti. Be ducks in blue flower tiles.
Be a wall telephone, spiral cord stretched for miles. Be a
pimpled-faced teen. Be a former homeless child sleeping
in her own room. Be dancing on clean white sparkled
linoleum. Be a shy step-daughter. Be a visiting sister
towing another man behind. Be glass tabletop,
chipped edges for all night D&D. Be a pile of
endless dishes. Be cooking sherry snuck by
seventeen-year olds. Be cartoons. Be drawn
on the refrigerator door. Be gaping windows.
Be a kind of glue. Be her best memories.

First published in Like a Girl: Perspectives on Feminine Identity.