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 · Conversations with Gravel · Poetry

To myself in grief state

you don’t believe you know how to grieve. death loss feels different from heartbreak, sits wrong in you. you keep moving your mouth from hour to hour, minute to minute. you fear if your mouth isn’t full of sound the ache will surge up and slump off your tongue. you surround yourself with people and want desperately for them to see through you. both in the way you can be unseen and in the way they see below your skin. you don’t want them to ask because you hate the effort of simple answers. equally you hate the weight of darkening a party of light-faced people with your honest answers. you are a paradox of love and emptiness. you want sleep like submerging oceans. there will never be enough sleep. you forget and want to be forgotten. want to remember before when you were the light.

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

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.

2010s · Conversations with Gravel · Poetry

To the Men who told me my Love was not enough

1. They told me with their hands

the first man I loved used his hands to pull down
my panties without asking
I had loved him without question
his carpenter hands
rough against my abdomen
my five-year-old heart was
blackhole becoming

2. They told me with their mouths

the second man I loved used his mouth
—when I gave him my free forward,
my unrelenting, my wide-open
when his empty was filled
with the red vacuum of my sex
he mouthed “I still love her”
and the her of me was vacated

3. They told me with their silence

the third man I loved used his tornadoed
soul against my earth-bed body for landing
then he pulled his sleeve up to his wrist
and wiped my name from his eyes,
rubbed my wetness from his now-landed
—took his relit fire and left
my heart, soot-thin
and never

First published in work to a calm.
Nominated for a Push Cart Prize.

2010s · Poetry

Tracheotomy

I said it all. Slit a line down my throat and pried it open like a dissected frog. I bent over and shook my head upside down to dump all that shit out. I don’t have time for ulcers anymore so I cut a line through my esophagus, past my heart to my stomach. I used the sharpest knife I could find and scraped them out. Word after word corroding the stomach walls.   daddy, sick, penis, bedroom, underwear   My hands covered in black-tar memories. I scrape them all out.    father, protect, shhhhh, coarse hairs, vagina   I thrust the knife in deeper until I find the last of them.    child, baby, girl, dim light, daddy    I washed them all in the sink. I scrubbed, rinsed, and dried. Then set them in the full daylight sun. Some I kept, put them on the highest shelf. Others went one-by-one, slow and deliberate into a grinding disposal. The last of them rest safely between pages of poetry.

  First published in Then & Now: Conversations with Old Friends

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).