and –

we’re sitting in a studio, and
I’m singing songs I didn’t write, and
the reverb on your harmonica is starting to get to me, and
you’re starting to look at me
in that way I know, and
I know how to do this without pursuit, and
you know that too.

you’ve known me long enough, and –
this seems fraudulent and odd –
are you practicing on me? and
when you suggest we go downstairs
for a cigarette, and
you brush against me in a kind of familiar way, and
you haven’t been familiar with me in that way, and

I know I told you I would help
with this recording, and
I wasn’t planning on this, and
I try to express it and you laugh

and you want to know what I thought you meant
and I wish you hadn’t asked me
I wish I hadn’t taken you seriously
and I wish I didn’t feel obligated to stay

and I wish you wouldn’t move in front of me
or block my way
to the stairs

and you smell sharp, acidic, and
my mouth tastes like chemicals, and
I can’t hear anything clearly except
the strange noises the wind makes against the siding, and –

why do I wonder –

have you ever listened to me sing?
did you actually need someone,
did you really need someone to provide something

for a song?

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like eating nettles

let me be brave
when the effort of trying to think of a sentence

builds
on my tongue

like I swallowed TV static but gravity wouldn’t take it
and instead it rests and it itches but it won’t leave my mouth
even with my lips parted
even with some words coming out

it’s never what I meant to say

and the words are perfumed in a way
that they taste kind of fake
no matter how much or how little
thought they might take

rabbits and robes

I hear her say things to me sometimes
like she did before

simple instructions

but she isn’t saying them
and she isn’t even imagining them
it’s just that I am

and I don’t really know
if it’s what she wanted

she taught me
the way you can when there is a child
when you are inexplicably in charge
a new person, a new place
clotheslines for the first time
keeping things kind of clean
reading in the morning
percolated coffee

and my learning was effortless
her instruction was effortless
I think

and when I think all I can really remember
of those early days
after long, long car rides

are rabbits and robes and cold air and strange mist
mist that doesn’t happen much where I live
but it was at her house in the mornings

west chester, november

my grandparents had a nintendo in their basement
a cartridge with duck hunt on one side, mario bros on the other
and that was where we went for holiday before-supper,
while some unfortunate one of us had to stir the gravy
upstairs

and I was the only girl
I helped set the table
I learned the places and where the silver was kept
and then I went downstairs
and we were amid the stationary for my grandfather’s businesses
his remote-control boats and planes
some closet hiding a mickey mouse tent
that the boys kept me out of
saying “password?”

and I’d ask what the password was
ad they’d say “password?”
that was the password
I never went in

I shot small targets in that game that weren’t birds
and we went up to eat a butterball turkey
at a card table
because when there were enough adults
we didn’t sit with them
and the rose carpet in the “family room”
the addition
(the living room was up front, hardwood, blue, filled with breakables, so pretty)
the family room carpet swirled in pales and darks
we could eat there sometimes

and there was one thanksgiving when I asked my brother to get me my lip gloss
I was eleven
and he mocked me
and my eyes were hot
among people I saw once a year, at most
and my other cousins all said, hey, girls wear lip gloss sometimes
she’s a girl, wants her lip gloss

and one went and got it while I sat by the laundry
in the adjoining room to the nintendo
that my brother said I couldn’t play
because I was a girl and the only girl

and my cousin said, here, I found this
it looks sparkly
and I put it on and he said
you can still shoot skeet on the duck hunt
we know you don’t want to shoot ducks
and walked me back to the video game

and didn’t treat me like a girl

 

scrap: hey nostalgia and Hollister perfume

and do you remember
when we went to the mall in Ann Arbor
and walked into a dimly lit store that smelled like every cologne and every rose

and we panicked and we were lost and I almost bought a shirt I didn’t like for $60 because you unfolded it and couldn’t put it back
I set it down

we found a place in the thoroughfare with a sculpture we didn’t like

but it smelled like the air we normally breathe
but it was in the light

and I remember saying,
while we watched people who seemed so well adjusted
unaffected
by the crowds and the smells and the money and the light:

the sorrow we hold is not untrue

it’s in me, it’s in you

the salt on my table

tastes like sweat
and fear
and people ask why I don’t season my food
when I do
but I use flavors, not salt
I add sage, cayenne, turmeric
I add heat
ginger, cinnamon, pepper

and they crave salt
sweat
fear

and I try to explain that flavor can come
from something that isn’t sodium

but there is more for me there

things I can’t quite tell them

salt tastes like my tears
salt tastes like and smells like
things that aren’t mine
things I didn’t want to know then
and don’t want to remember now

it still feels sour in my mouth
sour the way your saliva gets when you’re trapped

sour the way I look at people when they ask

 

there are some truths I know by heart

hair takes a long time to grow a root and grow through skin
different colors catch the light
reflections can be dangerous
it isn’t always in my best interest to know
where the hairs are
that might be different
because those are the ones I unconsciously search for
unconsciously remove
even if at the start
it feels conscious.

but when I can’t tell you how I spent the last hour
and there are new red places
bare skin
among the hair I left alone

is it a trance, or hypnotism?
to have a segment of time that I cannot account for

that I cannot show work from,
whose loss I cannot blame on any substance,

just a dull pull at the back of the strings of my eyes
scissors grazing at the threads
of whatever makes up time

and my inability to not harm my physical body

is the tenderest part of my struggle
it’s the part that will hurt when you touch it
it’s the piece I just can’t defend
even if it’s something I have trained myself

to accept.

even if it’s something I have decided

to stop doing.

I still come to grasp with the fact that the skin on my scalp is raw
and that the last time I looked at the clock was hours ago
and there are new reasons to shave my head every other day
there are new reasons to fake control

there is a hollow

there is a hollow
under my eyes
that echoes the raised area
on the back of my head
that didn’t go away
when I got it
and these two parts well with tears
these two parts throb with nervousness
and fear
and I listen to wind and feel my heart beat harder
I watch for movement and I feel my breathing get shallower
more quiet
and I learned how to escape both crying and being attacked
by being charming

because no one would help me if I wasn’t

and no stranger feels like looking at me
if I’m crying

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

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