yesterday i climbed mount everest. before i descended
i wrote a book about it, too. new york times bestseller
gleaming gold as i pour my homemade cold brew, honey lavender
in your coffee cup. your finger marks still indent the edges
and as always, i struggle to fill them. unlock my phone, one hand scrolling
through instagram and the other gripping the cup for dear life
as if that won't stop it from growing cold. flip from story to story
imagining a vacation in venice, canals floating lanterns on the water, swan-like
serenity. quiet. i wonder if you're with someone who loves you like that.
the screen buffers before loading. i catch a glitch of my reflection and then
a sunkissed brook, all wildflowers and monarchs, wings fearless and bright.
i wonder how many filters must be working to make the milky jade grass,
the opalline daisies, the marbled cobalt clouds, and ponder which combination
would make my pictures pop. is monotone still relevant? does matte matter?
how many views would i get if i posted right now?
and so it begins: the social media saga. it begins with adobe lightroom
making cheeks redder, eyes shinier, hair darker. take out the white--
--there's too much white, who cares about the snow--and curve it.
finally, the big reveal: trembling, i push share and wait for
the notifications to light up. your coffee sits, long forgotten
and the longing with it, at least for this brief moment in space.
it's a beautiful day outside: the sun settles like an egg yolk in the clouds
and the sky melts into cotton candy haze. i should get some fresh air.
i slip on my running shoes and my phone, benign tumor it is, in my pocket.
after all, what's the world but through a looking glass?
the wrong half of a witness testimony
JUDGE: Please stand. Raise your right hand. Do you promise that the testimony you shall give in the case before this court shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?
WITNESS: I do.
Where were you on the night the assault took place?
A) I was walking back to my apartment. The streetlights shortcircuited last Tuesday
and the repairman hadn’t come yet. I needed to get back to my apartment. I can still
hear the cars screaming like crows. I can still feel the pavement burning my soles. It
burns. It burns I see the skin on my hands blister and swell and I can’t feel anything.
I can’t feel anything.
B) She was walking outside.
Describe the assault.
A) It happened in seconds. The men leered at me like wolves. They saw blood on the snow and clawed until it was all scarlet. I wish I never turned around. I wish I could hold myself together I wish it never happened. It was dark and everything abandoned me, the streetlights turned away from me and the palm trees laughed and shook their heads. The smell, it was awful their hands like gasoline ripping my dignity to shreds. They never set me on fire. I wish they set me on fire but it wouldn’t change anything. I can still smell the gasoline. And the pavement it screamed for help, my shoes trying to run away from it all. That day the sky was so dull, it was like staring into a lake and not seeing your reflection. Like a black hole absorbing everything you know. And then it was over when the tires screeched away. High beams and 7-11 tequila and their talons on my skin. I wish they were vultures instead. At least vultures wait until their prey is dead.
B) She was raped by a group of men. They saw what she was wearing and did what men do. Afterwards, they drove away, under the influence. Your Honor, they were too drunk to have considered the consequences of their actions.
What was the witness wearing?
A) They made me feel like I was wearing nothing. Like I was nothing. Maybe I am nothing more than the clothes on my back. They ruined it. They ruined it all they ruined my favorite dress they tore out the lace like it was a gift to unwrap they ruined my life.
B) She was wearing a tight-fitting sleeveless dress. The skirt exposed her body and left little to the imagination. The neckline was considerably lower than what a woman should wear, especially at that hour. Your Honor, there was more of the witness exposed than covered up. She was asking for it. The witness was equally responsible for the incident, if not wholly at fault.
Does the witness have anything to say to the defendants?
A) Why? Why did you do this to me? What did you want why did you feel the need to prove yourself to me? You made me part of you, you and your disgusting vile revolting evil selves. I only see your hands grabbing my wrists, the bruises on my legs that will never heal. You ruined my life and everyone thinks it’s my fault. I wish I was never born. The blood it won’t wash away in the shower it stains the carpets pink. Pink, the color I was taught to love from birth the color I was supposed to be the color I am forced to teach my daughters and granddaughters and great-granddaughters. All because of you.
B) The witness has no comment.
i am not scared. / i know my breath like a mother: / child, spoonfeed the right amount of grief / swallow easy until stupor / until amnesia tastes like ambrosia / and the trachea has forgotten its tears. / i am not scared. / my fear molts, phoenix-wing through the fire / complacency colder, sharper, lighter. / i take it with me / even as my feathers bleed.
at night the bottletops mourn for me / stained-glass penance / beautiful because they are hollow. / that is to say, weaving starkissed reveries / from rattles. / that is to say, the antithesis / wrapped around my bones. / my ears only listen to themselves when they dream / of the music that never escaped past my lips. / the sounds that could have been. / sorrow sharper than geodes, regret / mercurial in my veins. / i am not scared / of peeling back my layers to the world. / i am scared / of never coming back.
your body speaks of fire and does not live long enough to tell the truth.
of singed-amber hair that caught the sun too many times,
eyes stained merlot
and hips that still know their burn marks.
when the spark of friction between skin lights,
you offer your kisses like kindling
and we speak in tongues.
we are crumpled bodies, paper
at fahrenheit 451.
but why is your heart still
i cannot breathe when i think of
your smiles crosshatched in smoke,
bedsheets left tangled, unsaid words
spilled like ashes from a cigarette.
my matchbox maiden, why do you speak
of promises you cannot keep?
we could be the sun, you the light
and i your rays. but how can i reach you
when your words turn away?
my fever dreams rewrite our reality into something beautiful,
make something from nothing
and too late i am realizing
that nothing collapses in on itself.
your body speaks of fire because it cannot say anything else.
you cannot tame the beast
but it chases you anyway.
because you, darling,
are my matchbox.
observation: it is easier to live without intention. to breathe in the shadow of the storm and feel the moment of impact, the split second before water baptizes the skin. thunderclouds spill their sorrow into your skullbones and you let them. because sometimes, you want to unravel the truth and watch where it goes. and where it will leave you.
observation: the human brain has as many neurons as stars in the milky way. i long for starless nights in the same way i long for a brain without neurons. staining everything black, returning to emptiness i know i cannot live and be whole. i wonder if the first time will be scary. if the dark will gnaw at my insides, nothing but the sound of mildewed breath and damp uncertainty. a voice from somewhere says the days will pass soon enough until i realize there are no more holes for the light to poke through and i am trapped inside one long, long night. observation: perhaps the scariest labyrinth is the one that is not there.
my fingers twitch when the first lights go out, a morse code requiem for the unbelievers. error 404: "hope" not found. try another search? the body is a machine and it is as if i am meeting mine for the first time: involuntary movement reminding me that i am not the mechanic, but never telling me who is. at the nexus of a black hole, a pagan searches for god as the constellations vanish. a pagan lets herself be swallowed by the space-ocean tides. a blink, and then nothing. observation: some stars shine brightest before they die, splaying their last into my consciousness, passing their lives onto mine. then, i am solid, concrete compressing atoms. a sun-baked hand stills frenetic energy. i have tied the ends: a speck of nothing blooming into something and becoming nothing again.
there is no ‘self’ in this story. only extinguished stars and dead synapses in the shape of a body.
sub species aeternitatis
and if you show me the stars in your eyes, how much of my reflection would gleam in those galaxies? i drink the fruit under your eyelids and your fingers carve rhapsody in my scapular. one day i will blossom from the weight of your words and my heart will spill onto yours. i will grip tighter as we fall. the way rekindled meteorites flirt with fire, burn like absinthe before spiraling down to earth.
and if i sang siren in the waves, would you let me find forgiveness under the sea? kiss abalone shells to be satisfied with the beauty of absence? darling, we do not live for this world. we cup constellations in our hands and dip our toes in the surf, and still we long to press our palms into sollipse. and still we long.
and if you painted renaissance on my cheekbones, folded me like marzipan and told me we were meant to be together, would i feel whole again? or would i fly from this fantasy, water bleeding from a broken pot? run and run until i find someone to hold me back. someone who holds me like a listless lover. bend my legs like willow branches; i’ll squeeze to fill your cracks. catch your fingers in my hair until we are one. until i can only breathe through your lips. until i can only breathe you.
when you leave, shed my skin like a crescent moon.
don’t make the bed. if you love me, let me pretend we are still stuck in eternity.
chronology of a dead star
12:23 am. i plunge sunburnt fingernails into mandarin rind and peel what is left of summer until it lands, in strips of trailer wall, on the ground. swallow wedges of a fever dream sun. or warmed diet coke before it lodges, viscous, in your throat. the mandarin fizzles away in bruised stomach lining, and i am left thirsty. just enough for a snake-scaled tongue to probe the water from my gums, always scraping, scraping. rusted blood thickens with saliva and i drink, too naive to know the difference.
6:53 am. my skin wilts in the shower; desert sand washes away noiselessly in the rain, and i cannot stop watching as the dunes of my shoulders collapse. head, shoulders, knees, toes: the domino effect until i am curled on the floor, painting cracked legs with discount razors. plucking hair follicles until they blossom and swell, stars burning in my thighs. momma whispers in my ear. “you don’t want to be that girl, do you?” i scream no, but pulped mandarin catches in my throat and the shorn hairs reply. they spell out liar, liar on the mildewed tiles.
9:13 am. i am seasick on the school bus, surrounded by a gordian knot of limbs. ellie’s shampoo teases me. i want to run my fingers through her curls, inhale jasmine so i can keep it in the smallest part of me. make myself beautiful like the rest. “braid for me?” she drawls, twiddling a bow. i plait, forgetting the way momma did it, tugging until i was sure she ripped my scalp. i tuck strands gently, let the jasmine vines have just enough room to flower. she grins cheshire when i finish. “thanks! ben lee’ll love this green ribbon.”
when i come home, i rip all the grass from their roots, feeling earth and something raw inside me come loose. i try to weave a ribbon better than ellie’s. i never do.
5:43 pm. thawed shrimp and grits, the wailing of fork on plate. i drag it on the ceramic, then stop. momma quiets in the rocking-chair corner, and i scavenge in the drawers for her makeup. (i tiptoe, because ghosts scare easy with noise.) for the first time, i want to see myself in this chipped mirror. waste away on cowhide eyeshadow, strawberry sherbet blsuh, the adrenaline rush of becoming. and then i am standing there, dandelion at dusk, artemis cloaked in shadows. she is me. trembling, i press two fingers to glossed lips and kiss until the sunset splits itself in two.
7:52 pm. i talk with the pinup girls plastered on pappa’s walls, perfumed updos bobbing as they listen to my story. (pappa left a long time ago, but he’d sure come back if he knew. momma would somersault in her grave.) i ramble like a fresh colt: about how boys smell too sweet under their breath and how the girls offer themselves up like marzipan and how i wish i could like how the sugar crusts on my teeth whenever ben lee calls my name. about the fever dreams of ellie i have, yanking off her green ribbon and breathing oh so close to her minted lips. how badly i want those dreams to come true. the pinup girls nod, the whites of their eyes unblinking, and i see how their cheeks flush like mine. how their hands fumble at the garters.
i drape mothballed sweaters over their bodies.
12:23 am. it’s just me and the coyotes tonight. the night sky tastes cold, pure as the constellations tumble over themselves. the moon wanes into a caladrius, ragged feathers sprinkling moondust to the stars. i pull open the window, straining past mesh screen to look into its eyes. it turns away.
momma once told me that each person is a dead star, fallen to earth to live their life over again. i squint and imagine me, in a past life: soul soaring with a lover, sketching her face in orbit, sea salt eyes, the moonbeam nose. somewhere, a coyote cries, piercing the silence. i wonder if they, too, are yearning for a person they’ve never met.
the caladrius is luminous, the heart of a pearl just out of my reach. maybe i was meant to meet the skies after all. i am burning now, longing reforging until it chokes my sternum, obsidian. orchestra pulsates past my veins; and suddenly, the rebirth of a supernova takes center stage.
the stars tell me she glided past galaxies, phoenix-wing until she met the sun. maybe i killed her. maybe she let me.
light only shines in darkness. so i stand, satellite, plucking holes in the sky in the shape of our names.
ghost town: before and after
greenwich village, december 1994. condensation fogs my glasses like momma’s kettle as i run to the corner store, snow crunching hard candy under my boots. patchwork clothes rise and fall with my heaving chest, a jigsaw puzzle sewn too tight to unravel. bennie’s overalls, erma’s scarf, papa’s tweed. ruddy-faced, i smile at the gray sky, an empress and her new clothes.
mr. lee opens the door before i knock, rubbing tomatoes faster than a shoeshiner on wage day. i am too mesmerized by the lollies to notice how he hides the stained sleeve behind his arm when another customer rings. penny pops glint like jewels; mr. lee catches me drooling and smiles when i sneak a coin from erma’s allowance. the doorbell chirps its two-note song, sending me off to the playground.
jackie is sitting on the seesaw, fiddling with the blue beanie i knitted for her. she counts to ten while i search the pockets of my overalls. (mrs. blume called jackie her star student, after all.) sheepishly, i hold out the gift. she smiles brighter than christmas lights, hugging me and licking the strawberry penny pop like lipstick. we make snow angels, staring at chimney smoke and imagining a world past the chainlink fence. before i leave, jackie presses a box in my hand: a bracelet threaded from rainbows. for you, she says. so you won’t forget this christmas!
i come home, flushed, frostbitten, and flying on top of the world.
greenwich village, december 2014. passerby stop outside storefronts, clutching lattes in one hand and designer bags in the other. the graffiti has been painted over; blank walls subdue the colors writhing like snakes. polished windows and picket fences gleam pretty in the snow. (even the sky is the color of a dewdrop as snowflakes fall. i can hear it weeping.) i hide under the scarf, searching for the musk of home. papa’s spiced leather, momma’s pumpkin pie. storebought cotton stings my nostrils, and i am left gasping for air.
no weeds sprout along the sidewalk anymore. trees grow centered in little squares and i feel dizzy as mr. lee is nowhere to be seen. monogrammed displays sear the backs of my eyelids. where is the awning i spent so many years under? where are the handpainted signs i stacked against the crates? his smile is fading from my memory. (why does it look like a grimace?) “hey!” heart leaping, i turn around. an empty window stares back at me. rubbed away, the letters Lee’s Corner Store.
it is christmas eve and i am stumbling across the city, feet searching for a childhood lost under the asphalt. flyers nailed to brick walls and no chainlink fence to be seen. a woman in sunglasses brushes my shoulder. “oops, sorry.” jackie pauses as i search her eyes. does she remember? she squints. “do i know you?” you used to. snow melts bitter on my tongue and my throat swells too thick to swallow. gingerly, i unbutton the bracelet from my wrist and tie it around hers. “no.” her confusion is palpable in the frosted air.
i whisper to the snowflakes dotting the ground like flowers. they are already melting, already wilting on the pavement. but i used to know you.
the keeper of the hearth must know when to snuff it out
“one morning, this sadness will fossilize / and i will forget to cry.” -mitski, fireworks
at night, the last tear cauterizes my tendons
like burning coal and i whisper an apology
to prometheus as the bushfires extinguish.
dried blood coagulates behind my gums
like candied tangerines and rock sugar.
the museum is open for exhibit and
my ribcage is on display; trace the wandering eyes
wreathing fireworks like weeping chrysanthemums.
a voice of rushing water: "here, we see an enlarged heart.
notice the atria dilating, two pupils clutching onto
the memory of love."
at night, the stars waltz and step on my toes.
i breathe in bathroom tile dust and see my mother
smiling in shattered mirrors. watering the petals
of an orchid woven from my eyebags.
houseplants shrivel in cobwebbed cupboards
yet their burned palms still reach for the sun;
why do i keep reaching? (because forgetting leaves no second chances.)
exhaling only relocates the guilt,
pushes edema from bronchi to stomach
so i can breathe easier.
entropy nestles between the bones,
makes a home in the emptiness.
(i shrug off my skin and let it rest there.)
this time, i allow equilibrium to stagnate in my veins.
and i do not light the matches.
january crumples like a spinal cord in my hands
january sun does not bleach the insides of my gums how i want it to. blushing alabaster and the first peony buds are one and the same: harsher in the light, splintered on leaves un-crystallizing between evanescence and bruised jade. and so i bathe in fluorescence like a microwave, watch the heat rising and stare at the colors it forms in my palm. [heart line and head line are backward stitched into oblivion; there is a point where you must choose which asymptote to reach for. but how can you decide after knowing the possibility of two infinities is ink-swirled in your identity?] fuschia glares in neon, and it demands my laughter before staining my gums of rose petals and rubbing alcohol. i hand it over. [rain-soaked laughter weighs heavier on my tongue, anyways.]
permafrosted mornings slice my heart open with a carnal kind of anesthesia: isolating my senses one by one until the equation can be solved. jawbone-sharp vision softens into honey-blood between my teeth. magnifying the sound of nothing until it becomes the snow in my veins. the quaking of roots and mud not quite metallic in my nostrils. [synesthesia in spring oscillates at 20 Hz: january cracks its shell open like a rotten pistachio, tired mauve and beetle-wing moss and stale skin.] the thunderstorm has quieted. the rainbow flickers on the inside of my fingers: mulberry jam and prussian blue.
january sun is weaker than i think it is. gaia dilutes the sky with too many tears because she is squeezing the life out of her knuckles to the soil. she wrings the washcloth like my mother and does not see the drops that spatter off the edge of the sink. [spring awakens with a clouded mind and forgets to brush the grime from her eyelids. she reaches to wake the plants, but stops. the plants will thaw in time.]
the plants will thaw in time.