Two people

In in the morning she wakes up very suddenly, the dream caught painfully in her throat. She sits up and spits it out onto her hand. It is is small, soft to the touch, growing and shrinking to the rhythm of human breath. It leaves thin lines of blood and saliva on her forefinger and thumb, and on the sleeve of her pajama shirt, where she rubs it clean. 

The curtains are drawn. Her roommate on the other side of the room is asleep, face turned towards the wall. According to her blue neon alarm clock, palpitating intermittently in the dim light: there are twenty-seven minutes before nine, and so twenty-seven minutes before she must leave the bed, wash her face, and prepare herself for the day.

Sitting in a pool of white sheets, her knees at her chest, her arms over her bare, unshaven legs; she rolls the dream between two fingers, trying to commit the weight and texture of it to memory. It is heavy as a marble, heavy as the moon. Holding it feels like summer’s end strawberries taste. She closes her hand around it; she lowers her head.

In the dream, a girl she loved (loves? She’s given up on tenses) held her hand on a school bus. Much too real; never real enough. A dream’s life is early and fatal like one of early April’s milky snowbanks, an instance of tender, pink-hued cold shot through by sweaty weather. That girl’s doe eyes, her baby blue jacket, her fragrant hair; the illusion of warmth of her fingers spreading through her body like a criminal’s car moving out of sight, getting away. The heat of the dream stains her, slick and violet, smooth as butter and sweet as honey in her blood.

An unpleasant, painful expression sweeps across her face — and then, as always, she recovers. She swings her legs off the bed. She is getting older, and her dreams are getting smaller, and smaller, and smaller. I’m not disappointed, she says out loud, to herself, to the translucent, beating dream resting in the center of her hand. I’m realistic. And yet somewhere, maybe not anywhere physical and quantifiable, but somewhere: she is leaning over to the girl in the school bus, in the sunlight, and she is kissing her temples, the apples of her cheeks, her toothy, blissful smile.

It’s difficult for her to learn not to be bitter. She is still trying.

El rayo que no cesa

Spring blooms in my stomach like infatuation, decadent, heady, and fatuous. Spring makes the tips of my fingers tremble like newborn roses. Spring dribbles down my chin in milk-warm, orange-pink stripes; it fills me up like cream soda, like honey. Soft, smooth, so sweet, overripe, dissolved in blood, sweat, in floral oils: Spring leaves stains on the front of my blouse, on my sheets, on the doorknob to my bedroom. 

Spring is a season of love. Love: what does an aflame Persephone, stripping wheat for grain, cracking mussel for pearl, what does she do when breaking hearts? What does a bitter Artemis, skinning boar for meat, killing boy for pride, what does she do when breaking hearts? I am weaker and uglier than any Grecian girl but look at me, at the red on my hands, down my chest, where I have crushed and regrown, crushed and regrown my own heart, again, again — you cannot tell me I am not more bloodied than they.

March is a month of assassination in a season of love and you look like gold and almond liquor, you look like the knife, thumb pressed to the blunt edge, peeling a navel orange over a white kitchen counter. Even the evening, with its eyes and mouth of butter yellow, its touchable hipbones of violet and orange, cannot compare. I start with spring, goddesses, dream, March, lilies, birds, and now you; I find that there are many, many reasons to love. My mother and brother, their tender, green-golden voices like roses opening in the morning. Spring spreading like light through a room. A heart. My writing, the closest I’ll get to seeing my own soul, swelling, bleeding like a stuck pig, blending with the saltwater, the flowers, the perfume of your flaxen hair.

Love: I am the glutton God could not account for, and I dream of love like a wave approaches the shore. Dreams: cast in marble and moonlit blue, a nighttime poison, a nighttime blossom, enclosing the hint of fragrance in clothes, bodies, lips, that hint of fragrance that must always accompany love.

Many reasons to love but –

There is an ache in my body wide as the moon and old as angels, sweetened by spring, bared by your face, your warmth. It is called please. Please.

Spring’s sun is mute, and the oceans still and cool to the touch; but when I stand under and beside them, my fear held in my bare arms like a bouquet of trembling lilies, the wells in my heart fill with the first rains of the year and the birds of prey come down to the water, and fold their wings, and lower their heads to drink.

– you are the only reason. 

The God of Kerosene

I was born in love, mired in it; in the mud of a woman’s blood. This is a letter. This is a letter, printed on the air above the Atlantic, to the only two who would remember my infant eyes.

Twist the verdict like a bottle cap, until the virtue and the venom spill, staining our necks and fingers with a pink both soft and bitter. Take your medicine. Wade out into the blue ocean between your throat and shoulder. Rest from this. No more pain.

We float on opposite ends of the still water; someone watches from the shore.

How do you explain to your mother that you still love her abuser?

The serpent used to sing to Eve. A lullaby from a kingdom of salt, where white flowers that lived through the winter grew into doves, and scarring on the body, colored sweet as cotton and sea foam, was left there only by choice.

No pain here, Eve.

God would beat the animal for this song. God would beat the animal until it was blinded, its eyes and spine broken into blossom. In the dust, it wept. But it still sang: No more

Even as her hand reached up into the branches, while He soaked the garden in kerosene: still.

pain.The angels with their swords; Eve’s hand, small as a new plum. The serpent sang: No

How do you explain to your father that he is an abuser, and you love him?

pain. The kingdom by the sea; Eve’s hand, opening.

This is an attempt.

I was born in love, buried in it; from snake to woman, from flower to ocean, from god to kerosene. Rest. Take your medicine. Forgive me. Find it in your doves and scars, in your blood and belly, to love me, still. Please,

no pain. 

Somewhere, Paradise is burning.

Big Mermaid

It’s easy to get lost in these worlds, where the waters begin and end, and the shore is a thin layer of gold, sinking where my feet are, like the mattress dipping under your weight.

If they made boats as solid as your hands, if they made oars as gentle as your hands, if they made sails as tender as your hands; I’d never leave the salt sea.

Pull apart the clouds forming above the dinner table with your fingers. These days are spread like lace, intricate, delicate; these days are made of telephone wires, with your voice at all ends.

A body, a sound, a breath, a belief. Wipe off the yellow desert spread like butter over your walls. Remember me, when you are in pain. Remember me, when you are in pain.

Not everything is made of circles, not everything has a center, not everything is provable, reducible, soluble. But your magic has made me believe I could pour the oceans into a sauce pan and boil them down into a blend of syrup, fossil, and glass.

If they had made my heart as solid as your hands, if they had made my heart as gentle as your hands, if they had made my heart as tender as your hands; you’d be drowned, and I’d.

The curtains are down, and all compasses are pointing here, to your bedroom at the top of the stairs. Your room, with its clouds and deserts, and you in the center, in a velvet-lined chair, knees pulled to your chest.

Not everything is full, not everything is whole, not everything is soluble. But my youth is still yours to use. The moons in my mouth, the seas in my sauce pans: I sold them for bus fare here, from water to land, from room to room.

Remember me, because I am in pain. You are asleep in your chair; wake, find me here. Look at how badly I have broken myself, only to see you again.

Walls, water; Rib, eyes

You are not the cooking pot in the yellow linoleum kitchen. You are not the carp, not the bowl, not the honeydew, not the tortoiseshell comb. You are not the phone pressed to the ear, not the slowly blooming rose. You are not the light, not the supermarket parking lot, not the shirt sleeves. You are not the bow, not the arrow.

You are not the exit to the maze, you are its walls. You are not the walls in this well, you are the rising water. You are buried, dug up, buried, dug up. You are not the door, not the window. You are insoluble in vinegar, in mercury, in gold.

When it is daytime in the Midwestern United States, it is nighttime in your garden. When there is time for the heel of my hand, there is no space in the silk of your arms. When there is space in your heart, there is no time in mine; when there is space for my heart, there is no time for yours. I am sitting outside, on the steps, and you are in my swimming pool. You are not the sugar, not the smoke. You are not the house, not the fire.

You are not the paradise, you are the rib. You are not the rib of this body, you are the eyes. You are shot, reborn, shot, reborn. You are not the gun, not the flower. When there is no space, and no time, for either of us, there is always the yellow linoleum kitchen, where you stand, mitts over hands, watching the steam rise from the cooking pot.

WHAT KIND OF PERSON

What kind of atom string, wrapped around what kind of carbon core, what kind of beating brain and nebulous heart, what kind of moral code, what kind of mantelpiece photograph, what kind of flower in the desert, what kind of desert in flower, what kind of person are you?

I’m the kind that can’t be taken anywhere, not with all the tankfuls of gas, not with all the love letters. I should have been a vegetable garden, this life, drinking in sugars from the soil; instead I am the kind that won’t call her mother back, the kind of Persephone that has to teach herself to love pomegranate. This life, I should have been a tankful, a letter, siphoned out and measured, sent somewhere; instead I am the kind that keeps her eyes open, and hides her burning hands.

You’re just a nasty person, he says, and I laugh and answer, easily, painlessly, did you just find that out now? What kind of promise, what kind of practice, what kind of purpose?

What kind of death, the kind that dries out, sweet-smelling, on the windowsill or the kind that is taken out back, and pressed into the surface of the river, what kind of morning in bed, what kind of alarm, those four bars of a love song, or your mother crying, what kind of kind, kindness, what kind of person are you?

I’m the kind that has been yelling come here. I’m the kind in warm clothes, at the side of the lake. I should have been the first, the second, the third; I should have been the third, the second, the first. This life, I should have been the kind of person that is a room: open the door, set down your bags, come here, come here. Instead I am the kind whose hands are still burning.

Sonnets for the Woman Undergoing Surgery

SONNET I PRE-SURGERY

These elements exist to complement, and you to choose
your life in this. That farmer of atoms with shells like onion skin
stands along the soil of your body on the gurney. Your eyes laid loose,
softened with saltwater and milk, opened, like a flower in a bowl, petals on rim,
by his row of scalpels. The blend of sweat and soul as your heart is popped
out of its socket, the small lump replaced with a silicon pump. Trust
that scientist with his diamond knife, carving a hole in your breast,
fitting you with a submarine gun in your belly, red-ringed. Such
a pretty little thing; your rosebud Kevlar mouth. You are no less
than the first and last hero, but who can you save? In this bitter maze,
learn that love, and running away, are one and the same.

SONNET II VICTOR THE INVENTOR IN LOVE

You are not tall, but tall
tall like the honey-toothed spring, its baby-blue maw
seen from your doorway, that long fall
you’ve broken in three places. You are not small, but small
small like the hand holding up the weight
of the cavern of your love between the trees.
The body which is your body first and
a weapon second, would you let me in
to rest for a while, to undo you strand by strand?
Oh, oh, will you, sweet girl, be mine?
And which of us is the doctor, and which Frankenstein?

SONNET III AFTER CRITICALLY INJURING AN INNOCENT

Arms, all daylight dirty and burnt day lily, fingertips
their snapped stems. God, where are you
now? Here in the pool of dirt, in the leaves of my lips,
counting out what is left, and how of much of this is true?
This, the life I have drawn and quartered, out
of only love? Let me go, please, let me leave where
I can cover my eyes in these dunes, these
bodies, bodies. How many fates are known,
how many white doors but red keys?
Me, arms cut, hair shorn,
Only I can find my form.

Laundry List

  1. This is my sense of self-worth: A dog in the wintertime, skinny, sitting squat on the side of a country road. A dog, alone, cold, still and wide-eyed as the snow comes down.
  2. This is my pride: An arrow, honed for hunting. An arrow, sharp, laying underneath the last layer of skin, straight, alert, at the juncture where shoulder meets heart. A hierarchy of needs, and desire is in a crown.
  3. This is my capacity for love: A stone, small, flat, entirely colorless but infinitely textured. Just touch alone, the weight and temperature of it in the valley of your hand, is enough. No eyes or mouth, no music; the line of your fingers against a stone in the dark of a windowless room.
  4. This is my self-awareness: A morning like a mirror, clear, over the fields of a careful farmer’s sunflowers. The view from the school bus, head heavy with the truth that is all pain.
  5. This is my weakness: A frame of wood made to look like gold, and a series of ill-fitting paintings of paradise.
  6. This is my courage: A wind, a coat, butter cake wrapped in tinfoil. A painting of paradise.
  7. This is my ability to adapt: An opening to the ocean, occasional rain stippling the surface, and underneath a dove-gray blue whale, mid-song.
  8. This is my ability to trust:
  9. This is my sense of self-hatred: Hitting the tar road at seventy miles per hour, hands on the wheel like guns pointed at dogs; hitting the water at eighty miles per hour. Crawling up the rocks, driving home. Getting up in the morning. Doing it again, again, again.

Fine & Crude

During the ceremony of Mahākāla, Lama spreads his fingers slowly and makes a circular motion with his hands, finishing the movement by resting the pads of his thumbs against his forefingers. I’m reminded the film I watched last year, alone in my college dorm room, about Japanese funeral rituals; I remember Daigo, the young protagonist, how he’d traced a dead man’s face, so slowly, with his palms, in a still room, before covering him with a sheet. Watching Daigo on the screen, his hands, I’d been filled with a strange, gentle sweetness in the pit of my chest. Now I feel that same sweetness in my heart, light, but physical, insistent but impersonal, and I recognize it as purest love, so small, quick, instantaneous, so close to unbearable, catching me off guard and then lingering for years after as rarefied memory in the depths of every bone. Lama’s hands, Daigo’s hands; the red, blue, green and yellow divine, the white body, under the sheet. Hands, hands; moving, circling, with that infinite and unconditional tenderness that men reserve only for their gods and their dead.

Billy puts his arm around me. It’s so dark I can’t see two feet in front of me. His car, the surrounding mountains, the sound of crickets, the stars: these things define the space around me now. I’m shaking, not so much that it’s immediately perceptible, but enough to know that I’m not prepared for this. I am neither the many-armed god nor the body with closed eyes, not angelic or animalistic, and Billy’s hand is at the base of my spine, moving up my back to the strap of my bra.

I don’t want to be touched, but I do. I don’t want to be touched, but I do. I want to be touched with reverence, with emotion. I want to be touched like I’m wound into your heart, like I’m a wound of your heart. I think about it all the time. Solid, and warm, chemical, touch like talc, touch like titanium. Hands, hands; moving, circling. A typical person goes through three-hundred-and-fifty thoughts a minute, and I’m thinking sudden rain, fingers, magic, name the closest stars, name the five kingdoms, name the boy I loved wholly once upon a time, crop rotation, touch, fluids in the brain, touch, blood, touch, touch, romantic by nature, skeptic by choice, touch. I want to be touched like none of it ever matters.

Hands, hands; moving, circling, with that infinite and unconditional tenderness that men reserve only for their gods and their dead. I am neither, and Billy’s swallowing hard, and his hand is squeezing my shoulder.

When I was a child, I went to an exhibition at a local museum that I’ve never really been able to forget. Picture this: A thick, black curtain, a dark corridor, a door that, when opened, leads to a wide, high room, so large that I cannot remember where it ended or began. The room has white walls, and it is filled with prisms, of every shape and size, hanging from the ceiling, reflecting light, producing color. I stretch out my small hands; I do not touch. I walk through it, slowly, but fast enough that the whole thing is over than less than fifteen minutes. I’m telling you this because I’m trying to distract from the truth of the matter, which is: I want to be touched, but I never wanted Billy to touch me.

Vivid, luminous, and clear

Cymbals and then a green gong, and Lama’s voice at the end of each verse is low and full; his is the sound a mountain would make, if mountains sang. The day after, at lunch, I tell him how nice it was and he smiles a little and says really? and I think of how secretive magic can be, even to its owner.

Some mornings I walk into sun, others into fog. Lama holds one of my hands between both of his own and I wonder if he sees the blessing that it lays in my heart, that umber organ growing clearer and clearer with each day. Such a simple gesture, but it’ll feed me for another year. Lama, alone in America after lifetimes in the white-crowned Himalayas with their familiar, flowering fields and faces — is he fed too?

Golden Buddha with his lapis lazuli curls, open palm turned out, facing me, facing a world. Anxiety’s ax has long been cleaved into my shoulder blade, but it has rained twice since I’ve come here and though I am no freer, I feel cleaner; underneath the ax, the silver of my blood shines, again.