tension craft

the thing about knitting intarsia
is that I pull the yarn too tightly across the back
the pattern never lays flat,
rippling and puckered at each color change
when I bring the yarn through to the front I try to do it loosely
I try to leave enough slack for it to sort out all the tension

that I put into it,

pulling, twisting, looping it through this ongoing knot
and maybe why I keep trying
and why I somehow can’t improve it
is it keeps taking that tension and holding it
and the evidence is reassuring
and the work my hands make
isn’t bad

and it keeps them from fluttering in my lap
or moving to my mouth
or seeking anything rough
to worry at

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spring uniforms

the colors after this rain looked
sharper than fingernails
and when I closed the umbrella that sheltered my eyes
they came close to closing
so accustomed lately to
dimness

and the buds on the cherry trees bloomed overnight
and when the rain began again it blew in from all sides
hitting us as we stood in the center of our porch
forming full falls across the entrance and the sides

it happens each year

and I remember now how May was always something

that feeling of having more, seeing more, breathing air that wasn’t cold
walking on water that wasn’t snow

I remember track spikes slicing my ankles when my toes didn’t point straight
practices beginning in insulated warm up suits and us freezing when we took them off for events
ranging through to months when we would sweat through them and
deliberately not find them quickly enough after races
mild scoldings from coaches and olders
telling us we’d get cramps if we didn’t keep warm
going to the conference meet

and then annually going to states for jumping but not for sprinting
I was never that great at sprinting or distance
and I would long jump and high jump and cheer for my friends
who could run so, so well

but it kept me outside when I was much younger
when I could gauge the day of the month by how green the grass was
how soft it began and how dry it became
how the sun sank lower and how dusk lasted longer
that light stayed with us in the infield until so late

as spring reached its way to summer and they touched

at the end of the month

and by day our slacks and our buttondowns felt heavy and hot
and the boys all tried to get away with loose ties
the girls all tried to untuck our shirts
and wear shoes without backs

and it was fun to see if we could succeed

with discarding the warmups too soon at practice
with secretly not wearing dress socks during the day

looking forward
to and through May

words are hard even if they’re good

to call myself a “survivor”
is something I have a hard time doing
it’s hard to say that my survival happened

when surviving
in one of those times
was pitted against not
[surviving]
pitted against a person who made sure my decisions matched what he wanted

whether it was violent or not

and I survived by my bones and my teeth alone
I weighed so much less than I do now
I couldn’t get food that he didn’t supply
and it never felt strange to me
it never felt strange to need to survive

so I would like to hold the term like a title
I would like to look at who I was and who I am
and feel proud

but all I remember is honestly not knowing
how I was hurt

I feel like I survived
(only now do I feel it)
if only because I’m alive

words do nothing to communicate the differences I know

nothing to express how

young I was then

and how old I am now

phone gifts

small jars of blended oil, I don’t know how you keep them from separating
sit on an unused vanity
decorated with stones and lace and photos
a lot like my own

we both struggled a bit too much with having an anchor
or not having one
there was a time I called you too late at night
you answered

and we continue that path of things that aren’t very easy
that combination of walking
and not talking
that somehow fostered this truest thing

this friendship that we have sometimes

I’ll be in debt for the rest of my life and I’ve accepted that I think

I’m reading the electronic messages I set up for my loan payments
and I am making my payment on the 24th of this month and then,
I will be okay for another 30 days
I remember the first teacher I worked with who got emotional over a classroom,
she told me she’d earned it and I’d do the same
and federal loans are forgiven after a certain number of years
if you work within an inner-city school
and that’s good for me, it’s good for her
but our library has no librarians
the shelves are empty
the students don’t get to check out books
and we watch the new principal walk through the halls
encouraging kids to RUN (in the halls, that’s not allowed!)
so that they won’t be late
and everyone hall monitoring
tells them to stop
and my cooperating teacher and I
we set out the work on each desk
we try to make sure we have enough supplies for each student
we never do
we never yell

nothing above him

we’re among rickety chairs made of unvarnished wood
they lean with you when you move
creak in the wind
and the hail is scattering in front and above us
and I found a squirrel on his side on the sidewalk
his fur moved with the wind and he wasn’t damp yet
but he was cold to the touch
and nothing was above him where he could have fallen from
and nothing had torn his skin or his face
his hands were loose and his eyes were open
and I went home and I got a box and I went back
after grabbing a friend to help me figure out how to help
and I thought he was just stunned, I thought he was alive
I thought the air that moved his fur
was within him
but he hadn’t breathed in a while
his eyes were falling closed by themselves
or maybe the weather just pushed them
and we’re on my porch now and he’s across the street and I don’t have a shovel
and I’m sitting on a chair in the wind and I don’t think I should leave
and that box is beside me and empty and it has an old towel in it
that he didn’t need
and it’s thirty degrees

hazel

the contours of my own face
are things I didn’t learn for a very long time
a fear of mirrors and a group surrounding me who didn’t use makeup
who washed their bodies a few times a week and started their days
with a splash of cold water, brushing teeth, making toast
or oatmeal
I never really thought I needed to know
until a strange dream where my body was gone and I needed it back
I needed to choose its parts from lists of the same parts
and I couldn’t
and it occurred, recurred, went away, came back,
and I tried
I learned the freckles in my eyes
the scars on my skin
the length (in inches)
of every limb
I never picked the right parts
I still can’t
for my skeleton changed very much when it broke
the colors of my eyes have been softened
the colors I see have been, too
the sharpness is gone in my frame and my memory
and I noticed it at twenty-two
I noticed my shapes change with the days the same way the water changes with tides
I noticed I wasn’t always hydrated
I saw the scars that I thought were permanent
disappear
I watched new ones form
and when concrete came up to meet my face,
it carved an intricate pattern of scrapes
to define the landscape
of my bones
and a sharp cut against my cheekbone that framed it clearly
a half-moon
just barely missing my eye
my beautiful eyes, the only things on me that I always liked
were forever spared
and yet I still can’t pick out the space of their freckles in a dream
I still don’t know when their gradient changes from orange to green
they look brown from a distance
I still don’t know them
and they don’t look the same

april 7

so I went to work and I did my job
I went home and I lit a candle and tried to tell everyone why
I think they understood, they were nice
I went on the porch and lit a cigarette that I didn’t want
and started to cry
and it’s that time of year when everything is starting again
but it’s a time of year when all of you are gone
and I’m not and I know
that it’s nobody’s fault
but I miss you
and would it be that I could send you back here in my place
I would

only if you wanted

to write

it’s another time when I sit down to write and I don’t
I think about how capitalizing “I” is respectful to yourself
as a proper noun
I think about how capitalizing “You” makes everyone think I’m referring to God

You deserve to be addressed in the same respect, though

whoever I address should probably be capitalized

but “capitalized” itself, the word – so many take it as capitalized upon –

and I struggle and I struggle and I revisit my masters
the ones who I Found –

my Toni, my Bertha, my Maya, my Virginia, my Sylvia, my Elizabeth, my Jane, my —

Charlotte, my Emily, my Anne! you all knew well enough to use pseudonyms
my Louisa, my Flannery, my

me?

It’s hard to write when the words we’re given through childhood
were words that never referenced me
all those beloved words
my F. Scott, my Ernest, my Leo, my Fyodor, my Rabbie, my numerous enlighteners,

my James,
my John, my
favorite of all of you, my dearest and I’ll call you so they know you
my Steinbeck,

my loves

none of you referenced me, but John, you came closest,
you came close

and I teach myself from what each of you left out
I learn from the ones who I seek out and find –
I learn that I still am valid

even without you

and yet it is so hard

to write

 

Sharp skeleton

Lying very flat, a cat on my thighs and another on my chest, both asleep

I breathe shallowly and take stock of the small things I feel brushing against my skin

Small insects that don’t exist

Small fears that build and build and fall

When I realize they’re not real and wash them off with the tears that came when they were

Wash them from me into the years I had when this didn’t happen

Sink further into this mattress and wish, hope, and pray it doesn’t get worse

My teeth hurt with clenching

My tongue bleeds from placing it between those twin rows of sharp skeleton

Oddly physical in this mental battle