When I look at myself from the outside, I see someone who’s successful. I see someone who’s composed, eager, passionate and grounded. I see someone with a good sense of humor who’s willing to laugh at themself. I see someone who’s face many battles and come out strong. I see someone with boundless energy, who never wants to stop trying. I see someone beautiful. Someone whose expressions change with the mood and whose watchful eyes follow the quiet people, the ones who can’t speak out. Someone whose outsides change with the season, whose thick and vibrant hair pokes out from under cozy hats, whose bright face is punctuated by studs and rings. I see a tiny body vibrating with energy and pain. I see hands rough from a lack of self-care. I see skinny limbs wrapping around a broken heart. I see a spirit worn from what it has seen, a world of people full of pain and love and joy and heartbreak and betrayal and learning and power and gains and fear. I see an open heart willing to take in the greatest burdens in hopes that it will grow enough to help everyone it encounters. I see ears tender from listening to the voices all around it and a mouth well-used defending the rights of those they care about. I see a world of words pouring forth from their brain and an intensity of emotion boiling inside the small figure. I see marks on the pale skin, ridges built from pain too massive to contain. I see ready hands and a comforting smile. I see elegance; I see flaws. I see fear in the watchful eyes. I sense anxiety behind the comforting words. Nervous ticks punctuate their movement. I see sadness hidden behind the colorful attire. I see someone who acts like they know who they are but in reality is struggling and fearful of never knowing. I see someone who’s been trying and is afraid of the day when trying is no longer enough.
The biggest mistakes I’ve made are the ones that anyone can see. White lines, brown lines. My skin a checkered canvas. A tally of each regret. Mostly hidden. All remembered. Every story. I can count them with my fingertips. Fifteen, sixteen in a row. Feel the ridges, taste the skin. My sad story written in the place that all can see.
Moon whispers through the whispy clouds and the shivering trees as we walk. We pause along the way. Air nips but we’re bundled and brave. The sky looks fresh and sacred, deep with night and sprinkled with silver, dashed with garnets of stars. The path spreads curled in darkness to my left and your right, it’s late at night, you’re here. Nothing seems more right. I’m used to darkness spilling in lumps out of my mouth streaked with tears when a hand is offered. But with you all I can think is how happy I am and it’s clear as the garnet stars sending their light in a centuries-long stream ending in our eyes.
Cars croon in the distance and the light from the apartments behind the trees adds an accent to your face when you look into the sky. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the moon.
You sit in the grass on the side of the path and I join you as close as I can get without the tight sadness in my eyes. We talk about the moon and the sky and look across the pond sketched with stars giggling in the nighttime breeze.
We walk again and whisper through the trees giggling into the chilled night and bumping shoulders when we trip through darkness. Gravel grumbles at our feet. My hair is sticky from daytime heat and I feel embarrassed about the oil in my skin, relieved for the thickness of my jacket keeping that from touching you. Your hair seems perkier and your skin smoother. You’re even smaller that I am. I wonder at the conciseness of your body, shaped and sketched from years of editing. Your thesis is finally on your face and it’s a good one.
You don’t like spiders. I try not to giggle when I think of you braving bridges and traffic and people and gowns yet stiffening when the sticky thin strings touch your skin. I know the way better and lead on to a clearer path free of webs. Anyway, we can see the sky better from here.
The golf course is green and well-groomed, almost eerie in the light of the lampposts. Tall spoon-shaped trees create the shadows and a feeling of walls as we walk. There’s a hill, so we climb, and it scoops down towards the street. You ask to see my phone and we lay in the grass staring at the garnet stars and listening to the soft music curling from its tiny speakers and etching into our ears.
I look at you staring at the sky with the tiny light from my phone beaming into your face and I want to tell you, I want to tell you every piece of me that’s ever been missing. When you look at me I close my eyes and wonder if you’re watching me breathe.
You stand and jump to roll down the hill, laughing and hollering, and I scream and join you, spiraling through the moistened grass and landing right into you. You grab me quick, my back pressed into your face, and we lie there laughing like lovers in a John Greene novel. My blood is shivering from cold and screams and spirals and the feeling of your body holding mine.
You roll me over to run your sprinting fingers down my sides and hear me laugh again. I fight back feebly but my fingers flail limp against you and I clutch your fuzzy jacket and scream. You’re on top of me and in my face and I’m gasping for more than one reason when I see your eyes and feel your arms and elbows on my chest.
You ask me how I feel and I try to hide the truth from my reply.
I want you to never stand up but as soon as it starts to feel okay you must think so too because you get up to grab my phone from the top of the hill.
I know I’m wrong and you’re trying, but the garnet stars in my eyes tricked me when I thought it might be okay. You walked me home and then left and I lay in the rug pretending it was the moistened grass of the golf course and the cat on my chest was you.
Light a candle in the wind to watch it disappear.
We hug. We cry. We read the names. I’m really glad I’m here.
The friends and family that I love just fighting to survive,
I’ve never felt so dead inside yet never so alive.
In my knee socks
and mini Mary-Janes, I used to consider
A perfect and still expanse,
I imagined, invisible yet palpable
thick as fog and clear as spring ice.
I’d clasp my ears,
body tucked into the dark corner
of a closet, buried
in a forest of clothes,
eyes shut for emphasis.
No breath or movement interfered.
Nothing tickled the air.
I puffed my cheeks
to hold in squeaky breath,
But my body thrummed with life,
spoiling any chance at perfection—
hands like seashells at my ears
echoing the demands of the sea;
blood washed through me
and a piercing ring
screamed into all the corners and folds
as if terrified
of something so incomprehensible
as perfect silence.
No matter where you go, must there always be noise?
I could never feel
what must be so peaceful.
A softened stillness free from roars
and rumbles, scrapes and screams.
I was always hearing—
wiggles from across the house
voices through the vent
aching strains of music stretching up the stairs.
What is it like to be deaf?
To not even comprehend
what sound is, just as I
will never fully understand
the perfect silence?
I lie to the part in the back of me
about people and places in my life
blaming them for the screams
disguising subtle, sneaky thoughts
that curl in the corners of my mind,
dark wisps of snide hope
tingling with unholy answers.
If my other part
knew the truth
heard the screams
or saw the snips of wisping hope,
would never be allowed to come in.
There will be complete silence at the end,
maybe in the coffin.
Sealed and consumed in the Earth
packed tight so no errant sounds
can squeeze their way
down through the airtight particles
and thick, musty wood.
I imagined the rich darkness
and thick cool silence
like welcome water
gushing over every inch of me.
I am destined for a box
and my silence waits for me there.
There must be a way
to find the coffin
an ongoing narrative
fills the gaps.
I pick the right words
like tender berries
careful not to squish
the truth I craft
and the bright, blank paper in my mind
as the two of us wait
for that secure coffin
and its inviting silence.
Deep and earthy rhythms
rumble from the skin
stretched on oaken frames.
All hearts beat together
shake the listeners’ bones
till all jump up to dance.
Midst feathers and the forest’s brightest hues,
the lithe and agile bodies hop and peck
as the wobbling white girl finds her feet.
Let go, the music beats.
Follow, we will lead.
The drum pounds in her chest.
Her bones throb with noise,
feet hop, body follows—
She beats with the drums.
Originally published in The Sheepshead Review, April 2016
I wore her hat today.
She tossed it at my bare head
citing resistance to the cold.
I should have smiled,
allowed myself to catch and cuddle
this rare show of affection—
but I turned away instead
and shoved my hair into the wooly packet
tugging it down over my face
to hide my frown.
It enclosed my head, holding tight,
the ear flaps dangling in my periphery.
Was this the way she saw the world?
Framed by the warmth of the black and white stripes?
Did the hat harbor her secrets?
Did it catch her thoughts,
tuck them into the folds and creases
along with the stray strands of bright orange hair?
I closed my eyes and listened.
The air was sharp and cold
and I was glad for the thick protection of the hat
as we trekked up the Butte.
I could only see her back
as she joined the faster members of the group
and even when I caught up
she seemed closed off
lost in the vastness of the mountain
eyes only for the blackness of the hills on the horizon—
her new love.
The hat settled on my head
and whispered that my novelty had worn off.
I picked at the wool in retaliation
but the broody mumbling notions didn’t leave.
I watched her hike up and past the looming folds of hill
journeying to the top with the bravest of the group.
I stayed behind. Her back vanished
and I was alone on the path with the hat
whispering its tiny revelations
mediocre thoughts of disenchantment
that may have belonged to her.
I perched on a rock and took off the hat
pressing my nose into the residual warmth
and smelling the earth and pine she left in her wake.
The orange hairs, curly stowaways, wiggled in the wind
but the whispers persisted.
Maybe she was tired after all.
A few of her hairs
tucked themselves to my scalp
and joined me on my pillow that night,
her hat tucked back in her suitcase.
They say you never know a person till you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.
I walked two miles in her hat—
I think I have an idea.
I keep my distance at first because I think it will never happen. Because I don’t believe in us.
You act like you want me there, and when I need you, you’re willing to be there for me too.
You listen like no one has listen to me before—without judgement, without fear. In my turn I listen to you, and I don’t judge and I’m not afraid.
Seeing more and more of you, I become more caught up in who you are. I appreciate your quirks, your clever turns, your unexpected ability to find the deepness and worry through it.
I love how quickly we become close, how naturally you seem to start to enjoy me. How right it seems to be with you and to notice and to care.
And when you talk about him I try not to cringe, I try to listen with an open mind and an open heart and be here for you like you’re here for me.
And when you seem to ignore me I try not to let it hurt.
And when we’re close I try not to let my awkwardness show.
And when I panic I try not to let you see.
And when I feel alone among the others and you, I try not to look at you with them, try not to make my loneliness visible.
And I try not to let people see how much it means when you draw me in.
You seem oblivious sometimes and then you do something that takes me completely off guard, and the more time we spend together the more plausible we seem.
But I still wait, I still keep quiet, afraid of what the answer will be, not wanting to tarnish the wonderfulness we have right now.