steeped

I can’t be the only one whose summer memories culminate
in one evening
steeped in days of heat and walking everywhere

not having many friends
and living in the upper floors
of a building
(so did you)
was it that same year? it was one of the ones we had
before we lived with each other
and I remember things in terms of boyfriends sometimes
instead of years
it was a few of both of those ago

my chronology got all mixed up somewhere along the lines
and it was, I checked,
it was that year

more than once I found myself walking to your house in the middle of the night
going up the stairs, through the doors, floor after floor
and reaching yours
and I don’t quite understand how we both stayed so awake
at least most of the time

and that night, that one
that embodies all my summers
walking to the river to bathe
I think it was already dark
and 90 degrees
and I was barefoot

spending the night in the water
not speaking
or touching
or looking

at anything except the way the light played on how the river moved
at people walking down the bike trail
jumping off the train bridge
and I know we walked on that bridge too and I had to jump between the planks in places
and I was cold for the first time in weeks
by the end of that night

on those days that were stifling outside
our attic rooms were so much worse
and I still remember how at first

I was so happy that we both had terrible rooms

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when it gets hard to eat

every loss that has taken place
is one that I can trace –
it’s as if I’m sinking my hands into a pit of cold grain
dry and deep and heavy

and I can recognize grief best when it gets hard to eat

and I can see it
a bit
in the lines that are forming at the corners of my eyes and mouth
I can feel it when I sit still

in the way my spine curves forward
in the difficulty getting it

to be upright

it’s in the back of my throat
the back of my head
the pressure
at the base my skull

the place where I imagine holds my memories

 

can i

can I bring my music to your grave?
can I say my words out loud?

can I wait in this strange garden
pocked with tall stones
and mounds of earth with no vegetation
can I wait here?

will it be with you?
or will I be alone
can you hear any of this?
do you know who I am?

I hold your hand in my dreams
and we wander through halls we went to when you were here

and I know you’re not
and I know it’s been a long time
and I know that if nothing else
you are here with me
even if it’s only me
comforting me

with thoughts of you

for being okay with me

my feet are bare on the pedals
and they’re rough textured,
gripping,
not gradual in their ways of moving up or down
even though they’re levers and not buttons
I wait for the catch, change gears slowly,
I have a passenger
to whom I explain the fact that I’m still getting used to this car

still getting used to pedals that haven’t been worn smooth
still getting used to the way the shifter is tightly together
there is no looseness
there is no forgiveness if you drift the stick in even slightly the wrong direction

and I kind of feel scared
as you wait in the passenger seat,
as you listen to the music that I decided to play
as you talk to me and as I don’t cry
(Have I ever talked to you before without crying?)

but I guess we’re friends
despite of that or because of it

and I want to thank you for your company
for being with me this morning
for listening to the birds with me
for feeling that same level of defeat
while we listened to everything wake up
and saw the sky brighten across the long, flat, roads

for being okay with me driving you home

I Stopped Smoking and Now I Can Smell All the Things

the scent on my hands, it’s something between milk and metal
something between soft and sweet and sharp
and I breathe it in with my eyes closed before washing them
I try to remember it as mine
before I try to make sure no one else knows it

and I recall those mornings when we were getting ready
we both knew that we looked better if we just put on mascara
or if we put on nothing
and yet there were small jars of skin-colored lotion for our faces,
scented sticks of pigment
for cheeks and lips, that we still used

we ran out of time and couldn’t wash it off before we left for work
you at a restaurant, me at a hotel
and the shower in the basement was the one I’d use if someone was in ours
it smelled of must and bergamot
and some perfume that was in the boys’ soap
which I couldn’t put a finger on, which I still can’t

I smelled it the other day and so much came rushing back
finding those strange things in that house
not knowing how to keep it

and I still can’t keep that strange, sweet
milk and rust scent of my own
it reminds me of the taste of blood
without the blood taste
it’s mingled with so much from that year
so many habits built into a smell
that doesn’t even hold any of them

and I feel that if I say enough about this,
if I write enough about my memories,
I’ll have put them in a place that I can reference
but the new ones keep coming back in new ways
and we raked the mulch over our yard and the dahlias are beginning

and the compost from last year is still there
and we know it and I know that
these things will never have enough written about them
that they won’t come back again

Monologue Assignment as an Intro to Grade 3 Michigan History and Geography (Please Take with a Grain of Salt and Read in the Voice of a Tired Mermaid who Sounds a Little like a New Age Gal)

“I’ve been trying to get to Lake Erie all winter and it’s been so slow going until now. I started in Oakland County, when I woke up in a SWAMP, after being frozen over all the way from January until April.

“So here I am now, in May, and I made it Southeast to Ypsilanti. I’m full of rain and snowwater and I’m moving faster than I can at any other time of year, but like, I’m still stuck between all these 19 dams from old mills that don’t even exist now. I still try to find my way down races that used to connect to the river and I get turned around and sent back, and then I have to try and stay in one piece when I fall over these 8 foot dividers in me.

“A long time ago, men built a sawmill and a flour mill in a place they called Delhi – and they never cleaned it up. The Delhi Rapids are an area for only experienced boaters to go to, where my water cascades over the underwater ruins of the dam that powered those mills, over the stones they used to build walls and grind flour, pushed by my water.

“Along the way to the lake, you’ll notice a lot of tires thrown in near the highways, glass bottles that roll around underwater and plastic ones that collect on top. There are bike frames and candy wrappers, and I don’t know why exactly, but the tires are the most visible thing. Anything that people throw away, you can find somewhere in me. There is a lot of wood that falls into me from trees naturally – but people built docks long ago and never took them out, and pitched old adirondack chairs in to fall apart and feed what little soil there is in the rocky river bed.

“Let me tell you, my sister rivers the Grand and the Kalamazoo, they head all the way West across the state until they hit Lake Michigan, and I know I have it easy – I’m almost always somewhere flat and downhill and carved out, especially once I get down to Belleville.

“I used to be so cluttered with big boats – now I just have to listen to canoers complain about log jams and kayakers who can’t portage successfully – they’re not ferrying out to Pennsylvania, they’re just here for a day, here to have fun.

“The railroad runs next to me, like my brother. We both don’t have a lot to send these days – just passenger trains and tourists who rent canoes. But we make sure the other one is okay and the rails whisper encouragement to me when I get trapped with my trout in the fish ladder, when I notice the carp eating things they shouldn’t because they’re far from home.

“I never meant to stay inland for so long. I never wanted to be constantly moving, constantly used for transportation by people who hurt the things that live in me.

“It’s said that rivers are the first roads – but maybe they’re also the last. I keep trying to get through all the things between me and the lake – I keep trying to get there. Water is supposed to flow.

“It’s been a long time since I could flow freely.”

holes in the ceiling

I look through a hallway I never lived in
and the floors are wooden and the planks are wide
reddened with stain and varnish
darkened with the dirt that never came off with washing
and there are holes here in the upper floors,
circular, not big enough to fall through,
small ones to let through the heat
from the wood stove in the ground floor
in the main room
and we dropped your action figures through it
attached to string with the bobby pins I had when my hair was still long
and there would be others waiting at the floor below
there would be some to perform reconnaisance
something we only use now when we’re trying to even out credit card payments
at our respective companies
but there we would make them march
through basement jungles we didn’t own
with guns too wet to shoot,
into mountains that we never saw
the soft ones here were like rolling hills,
gentle,
safe and warm and housing a home
and the flat land that made up my home
it led to a water we never used in our games
the woods behind your house were ones we never referenced
in that inside cacophony of floors and ceilings and holes and windows
these homes are small
carefully taken care of with means that was mealy
in the way that word can be

daydreams

are we living
in these stories we write for ourselves
those daydreams in church, pressing your tongue against the roof of your mouth
to keep that yawn from happening
while you make a narrative of a train wreck and survivors
it’s oddly similar to the one you made when you saw 20th Century Fox’s Anastasia as a child
someone is hurt, someone is scared, someone is lost
they end up in some way
depending on the day
and you stand again and you hear the words
you hear the readings
and their substance is strong but the format is known
and you look forward to kneeling
to figuring out how your leading character gets through it
while you wait for your turn
for your communion

and it doesn’t always go this way
sometimes when you are here, you know that you

pray

and the connection with your fellows is tangible,
tense,
pulsing at that core you keep in your skull somewhere
that thing that writes your stories

but are the ones that aren’t about you

you
too?

I never knew how comfortable planning made me

I’m not a good actor
it’s something I know,
something I knew,
something pretty apparent in the way I communicate

how I have a lot of difficulty thinking while acting
speaking while choosing
I like to plan what I say
and when I don’t,
it goes badly,

generally

and the personifying that I can do on paper
the things I can have fun coming up with
I have a lot of trouble embodying
even though I could type monologues for hours
I could write them with my left hand
I could use a language I’m not even fluent in
and I could make something worth reading

but I have a very hard time performing them

I apologize and I laugh and I know it
and I try not to
and I hear it and watch it happen again
and my movements are too fast or not there at all
and there was a reason why I was cast in musicals and not plays

changing the way I speak and changing the way I respond

it feels frightening

like a dangerous game

but it’s supposed to be fun