how-to

how to draw a cartoon of yourself
how to assemble a page
with words or with greetings
with correspondence
or images

how to root cuttings

how to pull out things
by the roots
how to stay awake

how to not apologize correctly
how to do that too strongly or not at all
how to offend people
how to avoid people
how to think about them too much
how to not properly apply thought

how to avoid walking by the entrance no one uses
to that house where someone lives
how to not glance that way

how to sing a song
how to write one
and how to keep it a secret

how to hold out hands
to offer help and ask for it
and how to not know how to say
you’re not positive
about how to do either of those

but how to try

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birthstones so contrived

My parents gave me gold and sapphires in delicate settings at age 10, 13, 17
A dark stone set for the month of my birth
Bright and dark all at once

Following the death of my next-oldest brother
A bracelet I wore to my grandfather’s wake
I never got back

It was left in a house lost
And I remember holding my grandmother’s hand
In the hearse

I remember his fellows laying the flag on him
I remember laying him in the ground
In that dark month of my birth

That strange brightness of overcast sky

i guess i can try writing about it

his hands could close around my waist
it was funny at first,
cute,
made me feel small

which is part of being attractive
to men who want to feel important

I tried to make a sound like a storm

I remember screaming
but was it later?
because it’s blurred now
I do remember other people there
who didn’t care

and I remember

having him
ridicule me

telling me I was too little
to make a difference
too small
for anyone to hear

i live in an old house with three young men who i love but we all have different cleaning styles

sometimes I look around
and notice that nothing is actually clean
and I feel like a hostage
with no way to leave
and it’s the surfaces that drive me mad
the walls with their stains
the sills with their mildew
the floors with their dirt, loose and caked on
the carpets are filled
with things I don’t know
hair that isn’t mine caught in the dust
a shower floor that is never one color
but it keeps changing the more I scrub it
and I try so hard to fix it
because I don’t feel I can leave
when I’m crying over grease on a counter

Delicate Machines

there is a delicate machine that took my friends back to L.A.
that also delivered them here to me
and the tension running through terminals
flows like airblown clouds
too wispy,
too faint

to truly recognize

aside from feeling that familiar
grasp
at your throat,
that heat and that chill –
that wordless fever –
as you step barefoot, into a line
on cold tile

praying you won’t be the one selected

because you were a half hour late
to the two-hours-early

clutching your bag, your ticket, your ID

and I can’t go with you, from the entry
you leave my car and we get your belongings
and it’s unceremonious

even if we try to take pictures
while my hazard lights are on
and our breath is visible
and we’re both smiling

I tell you to let me know when you’re home
you will once you’re on board
and again at the layover

and I’ll see an update elsewhere
and you’re safe

I think we both sigh

we want a field

we want a field to play in
it’s a simple request
one that all the other schools have
we have a really nice parking lot with a basketball court
and we play soccer and football there too
and there are swings and climbing things for the little kids
over by the cafeteria
but there isn’t enough grass to run on
and so we continue
our entreaties
because we wear uniforms now
and it’s harder to get blood out of khakis than jeans
and it’s harder to get scraped on grass and dirt
than on asphalt
the parents are on our side
there is a building in the back that no one uses
it was a house and if you climbed the right tree,
you could sit on its garage
and read the graffiti about the eighth graders’ romances
“Steph and Kyle” “James and Alisa”
and it hadn’t been entered in a while
I think they wanted to use it
but they tore it down
to give us our field
the year before the school shut down for good
and we were the only group that got to use it
the only kids that went there at recess
the only ones who didn’t get carted elsewhere
in the diocese
in the district
and our knees stopped bleeding
and our mothers and fathers stopped needing to scrub
the clothes they so painstakingly bought
and the buildings are all still there
except that one
and did we do a bad thing?

weather poses

the weather poses different problems than the ones it used to
for me

the sun can reveal different colored skin
on my back and my scalp
my shoulders and my neck
and it can burn
bright patches around speckled scar tissue
but really it’s enough
that it can burn

the wind used to be the thing I feared most
when leaving my house
and the rain
when I wore careful costumes
to disguise
when it was very important that no one knew
what I looked like without wigs
or what the shape of my body was

I still get flashes of that time when the air starts moving
more quickly
dustily
duskily
the memories lifting from the ground
like motes in a library
in the sun
until I’m breathing them back in

 

Remembering turning 21 as I turn 27

I can remember how bright
the orange seemed
I remember how little
of that color there was to see

of the sun,
of the bricks,
the light on our skin,
the glint in my eyes

I can remember the colors so much more brightly
than anything [clear] about that lost year

there was a notion of being one
although we never really decided if that were true
I’m still confused
about how when you wouldn’t go with me
I still chose you

that was a shortcoming of my own
of thinking we had a mind of the same
of thinking that you were interested in me
as someone who you didn’t dictate

you might not call it that
“to dictate.”

you might not know

even now

you
might not still know

that when I turned 21, my best friend got champagne
and gave me one glass,
respectfully
making sure to say that
it wouldn’t get me intoxicated

it wouldn’t make you mad
(it would)
(“that is sin”)
(I believed you)
(I didn’t know if it were a sin)

I still didn’t tell you.

I’m realizing now that maybe I knew
then
the level of disconnect that would go on
the ideas I tried to support of yours
that would go on
the notion that I wasn’t permitted to disagree
and the actions that didn’t permit me

that would go on
and on

until I couldn’t bear it
until I ended it
in a yard that felt shared, but it wasn’t mine.

It was the right thing

but I should have told you

when I knew.

needle and thread

I remember when the most intimate thing I’d done

was hold your hand when you were sick,
leave the church when you couldn’t take it,
sit on a bridge when the sidewalk was too much,

close my mouth when I saw you with someone else.

and I know you never told me otherwise
but I know you weren’t mine any more.
I knew I wasn’t yours.

We still saw one another so regularly

(this address of mine covers about five young men,
one young woman,
and me)

I know we were not mean to each other.

We struggled.

I should be able to tell them apart, though.
I should be able to recall at what point it all turned

I should know.

The truth is that I’ve struggled with knowing what was platonic
and what was romantic
and acted on both

for a long time,

I still can’t tell friendship from courtship
if you don’t specify,
and if you’re new.

I still don’t know it if you flirt with me,
if it’s on my mind, I’m terrified.

If it isn’t, I feel better –

even if it isn’t feeling safe.