in the apocalypse, phoebe bridgers and I do not survive
after phoebe tells me she wants to die, we roll our eyes // there is nothing deader than an indie darling so she was already leagues deep // I slur words and ask her if she likes ohio // enough to live for it // she says no but does anyone and don’t we all exist anyway // the zombies chase after us as we escape our hideaway for one last night // she strikes charli and jack with her spiked bat as we run and it is sick and beautiful like us // our bodies bitten // turning undead // she pushes me towards the tour van and I know where we’re meant to go // our mountain dew-rotted veins drive us home // past the sun like she always wanted // and when we pull over on interstate 71 and look up it is barely there // our sights bleeding away // HELL IS REAL // IF YOU DIED TODAY WHERE WOULD YOU SPEND ETERNITY // and I feel a hunger taking over // a throatfire inside me // right here, phoebe // I say // come nearer, baby
on fever dreams in june
do you remember when grandpa died? it was st. patty’s day and raining and the sixty-watt lightbulb above the bathroom sink was buzzing so much it looked like it was about to burst. do you remember when aunt julie sang at the funeral? the air tasted something like expired peppermints and baby powder but i think that everybody held their breath when the piano started to play. they must’ve.
for some reason i can never seem to run fast enough in my dreams. there’s always this burning in my calves. a dagger lodged in my thigh. and it’s kind of funny because it always feels like i’m going fifty down the interstate, weaving through all of the semi-trucks with their bloated headlights. it’s kind of funny because the fastest i’ve ever ran still feels slow when i’m dreaming. it’s kind of funny because i always end up dead in the end anyways.
did you know that uncle paul traced grandpa’s ancestors all the way back to the sixteenth century? they let him flip through the church archives in hrdlořezy, let him page through a book of names and births and deaths, let him hope he’d find one of his own. do you remember how you yelled at me when i told you i hated jaternice? how you said that if i wasn’t gonna eat it, who was gonna feed it to my kids? who was ever gonna eat liverwurst when you were gone? who was gonna remember we were even here? when i told you i didn’t want any kids you laughed.
in seventh grade they made me run at the conference championship for track. i didn’t tell them i didn’t like running races, that it made my head spin and my throat swell. i didn’t tell them that i hated the way they measured my worth in seconds. how fast? how fast? how fast? i quit after that year, threw my tennis shoes in a rubbermaid and shoved it behind the fold in the basement drywall. how fast? not fast enough.
if i ever met my ancestors i think i’d probably hate them. i think they’d probably hate me. i think they’d wonder where you went wrong, why you raised a girl with slipping faith, a girl who’d rather not marry a man, a girl who didn’t cry at her grandpa’s funeral. a girl who hears voices at night and wonders who’d miss her if she was gone.
ms. m asked me a couple weeks ago why i didn’t do cross country this year. she said she’d seen me running around the neighborhood, said it wasn’t that different, said i could get faster. i think i might’ve shrugged (i think that in that one second all of seventh grade came flooding back). i wish i would’ve told her that i only run for myself now. i only run to forget.
last night i woke up at 3 a.m choking on my spit. in the dream, everyone had czech accents and half-moon frowns (bohemia in a crowd of crossed arms and pursed lips). i was sprinting and blood was dripping down my legs in fat drops. the corn was laughing and the car-horns were honking and i could’ve sworn i saw grandpa. i can never run fast enough in my dreams and it kills me. everything i want to leave always catches up in the end.
half a year in review
in january i grew rotten with love
until my mother could no longer hold me,
scrappy and mewling, in her mouth.
their teeth, their dinners, their sweet red wine, i spoiled it,
i fermented in the cellar, in my gown of aubergine
in my hunger. i peeled the world open with my bare hands
desperate and sick like a dog searching for a dead body.
i found nothing but my own collarbones
and i fashioned them into swords. my body was no longer
useful as a body so i made it into a weapon.
and when i turned there was nobody to hurt
save for myself. soft flesh upon soft flesh,
begging to be opened up and turned inside out,
turned into a window, so that it might watch the sun.
in february i threw open the curtains
so that the moonlight might kiss me
with her butterfly mouth. instead the fruit flies
swallowed me whole like a rotting plum
out of season. their hungry mouths on my heart
something almost tender: like a knife drawn across
the bare back in sleep, the skin left trembling.
the not-kiss. what was left to do but surrender,
to the hum, the windows and their sea-breeze,
the nightgown and its white flag.
in march i was a dead thing, not yet found
or wept over or preserved and not divine enough
to rot gracefully. the sunbeams and maggots
sang songs of mourning into my hair. in march
i was all the words for empty.
a library spilled open on the floor like a mouth
hungry for matches - like alexandria in her nightdress
begging to be burned down. the earth did not want me.
the bonfire with its whiskey-ridden teeth beckoned.
the first death was not beautiful enough
so i had to try again. we kill dead things all the time.
burn them and return them neatly. just one go is ordinary,
shameful. i wanted to make things right. i set my world on fire.
in april i rose into the air like cigarette smoke
and swallowed up the rebellion sky.
all the leather jacket girls with their bloodred lipstick
watched me disappear into the night outside the party.
i may have wanted them. i may have wanted to be them.
i didn't know the whole story but it was so full of hunger.
my Great Big Cloud of want blotting out the moon.
and i was so fragile. the stars put their hands through me.
they carved a man out of my image -
wide-hipped and devilish -
and sent him up to heaven.
this was the end of the prayers
they would say in my honor.
in may i looked alive
if you held me in the right light.
like a drunkard turning under a streetlamp
who for one moment becomes a showman.
my ragged clothes, my moon-faced wonder,
half divine and half human and all sky.
i wanted to tell you all. i wanted to let you in
on my secret. if there were rooftops to walk on
i would have taken up smoking, had conversations
with the stars. i would have shouted from the top.
would have said this is so fucked up.
i’m something and then i’m not.
and by the way, what are we all doing here?
in our tender-hearted kitchens, our yellowing bedrooms,
bodies passed from person to person like heirlooms.
give me a break. give me something to work with.
in june i will tilt my head towards the heavens
and ask to be baptized by the sunshine.
at night, the moon will write love letters to my flesh, like
a high school lover sneaking in through the open window.
in june i will be alive alive alive - i will be a shrine
to the light buried within me - i will learn
to worship the things that i did not think existed.
when i grin, the ocean will roar between my teeth.
i will pray that for once, it will not
leave behind the taste of blood.
prophecies on the subway walls
i live on dirty subway corners where you can hear the resonant
afterthought of a musican's heartbeat.
(and orpheus reaches out.)
and my breath is the passing thrum of the
metro, because my home
is not heaven nor hades so perhaps in between.
rest your feet, traveler, toss me a coin or two.
i can spin you a tale or sing you a song, like
the poets before me. i construct
ballads out of discolored chewing gum wads and the
stink of cigarette smoke and it might not be
pretty, wanderer, but it is home.
(and home is not where gods live but
where humans die.)
bend down, little one, sit if you wish.
(the metro won't arrive 'til the show is complete.)
what has brought you to me? a melody? a legend? perchance, a wish?
maybe a dream, these days they say
dreams are wishes in wolves' clothing.
humans say many things nowadays. but some things are constant.
you know, they sing how 'the words of the prophets
are written on the subway walls.'
i think it's a funny little saying, funnier still
how we choose to ignore them.
cassandra would have hated that no one learned.
(or maybe she'd laugh, and have another glass. pessimism is
fashionable on those fate favors, on those fate twists.)
but troy's been in the same cycle for a millennium now.
different names, same games. history repeats- in fact, it rhymes,
and perhaps this verse will be mine to spin.
ah, the time approaches. and so for a bow. a finale, an ending. how will the curtain
close? a metro station is not for these things, you see. i am
not a beginning or an ending- i am a transition, like all important things.
perhaps you'll learn to value transitions one day- these walls are not
sleek marble, not polished wood. they are dirty, a half note of an unfinished song,
abandoned. traveler, learn to listen, learn to see. and when you leave, hear the
hum of the subway, read the prophecies on the walls.
and maybe this time, when cassandra speaks, someone will listen.
kinds of thoughts
i’m a golden hour girl, a lover of sour gummies that get stuck in my teeth, a mint eater, a sun bather, a walks-over-runs kind of soul.
i’m a loud cryer, a self-righteous fighter, an agonized writer, an insecure flighty-fidgety-burnt-out-people-pleaser kind of person.
i like sunsets, hot sand, hands-out-of-the-sun-roof radio chants, bedroom slow dances, barefoot dreaming kind of days.
i like being alone with the wind, talking to my very few friends, pretending to be careless and then going home to fix it all up for the next kind of days.
give me a warm greetings, artificial icy sweetness, learning-how-to-drive-with-my-dad mornings, butterflies in my stomach, inchworms on my wrists kind of summer.
leave me harsh goodbyes, poetry that doesn’t rhyme, painted sure-we’ll-hang-out-this-week lies, misuses of the word “vibe,” flimsy mistreatment of valuable lives this summer.
northern italy, 1980s. i unhinged my torso
between afternoon's sun and the grass field
i used to think would bury me
with white roses & your last name on the tomb
in my head our summers are next to right now:
you placed a strawberry between your lips
soft, sour fruit slumped down my bare throat
the one now scorched with acrylic scars
northern italy, 1980s. i no longer recall
how many summers i had been drunk on you
we were hellfires with oxygen-filled lungs
and your touch always felt like the first
our initials on that apple tree, withered.
i dig into my mind until my fingers bleed
for traces of a forgone lifetime, heaven
in your perfume, sins tasting like lipstick
northern italy, 1980s. some years later
i'd wake up in an empty bed, you next to him
polaroids locked, you no longer remember
august night, beneath your body. onwards-
i taste blood instead of strawberries
our apple tree torn down for the better. but
i don't regret the summers wasted next to you
& never the years of melancholy that followed
only when you’re seventeen
i look up to the yellow ceiling and pray
to who i don't know- to the woman-god, god-woman
the one who ate the earth so it sits in her stomach,
the timer is still counting down, and it cannot be stopped
so i hook my heels on the sides of my chair and continue
sometimes i want to eat the world too but i'm not big enough
or at least
that's what they told me.
maybe after the timer runs out it will be different.
maybe my forest will grow thick enough that nothing can penetrate
maybe i'll learn to navigate that rubyfruit jungle
that lost womyn space.
cause when i studied for this test i learned about
the cult of domesticity
the feminine mystique.
i thought maybe those women in the textbook
maybe they don't want to be pillars.
white pillars modest and clean and straightbacked.
sure we carry the earth in our stomachs but do we have to shoulder the sky?
i wondered this while the timer was counting down
until i had to take the test
until i turned seventeen.
i waited all day for the world to end
but the earth inside me rumbled on.
poem i gave up on
however briefly beautiful, i am glad we made it here,
wicked sunrise, winged white lies, a dandelion behind my ear.
write the next line for me, tell me how to finish
what i started was never wanted, what i wanted i’d never win.
i picture it, soft, and i ache
The last dregs of sunset spill out through the drawn curtains, bathing the bedroom in the soft, dulcet gold of the lowering sun. The room is swathed in mellow light. As if recognizing how the evening’s beginning to settle, the aircon’s quieted to a dull hum.
Sha Yexing pushes her face petulantly into the bed’s sheets. It’s hot. Which, really, of course, would be better if she simply kicked the blankets off, but she’s tired. She is! And it’s not like it’s just laziness—an entire day of tennis matches would easily have incapacited anyone just the same. Seriously. Seriously!
Lu Jing hums obligingly in response, and she realizes she’s been mumbling these thoughts out loud. The bed sinks next to her. She cracks open an eye to watch her boyfriend settle himself, laying on his side, head pillowed on his arm, facing her.
“Hurts,” Sha Yexing complains, playing it up a little with a whine for her poor, piteous state. “Sore.”
Lu Jing gently brushes a damp strand of hair out of her face. “Did you stretch?”
Ah. Well. No, she technically didn’t. But Sha Yexing was beyond that! The aircon suddenly starts back up again. Some distant ambulance siren far outside blares, the sound waning and dulling as it drives away. Lu Jing lets out a small, amused breath at her lack of a response.
“Gege thinks so little of me,” she answers instead, fluttering her lashes as she uses the very small amount of energy she has to wriggle closer to him.
He smiles at her softly, eyebrow slightly raised. “I think you’re avoiding the question.”
“Xing-er would never,” Sha Yexing breathes out, going for a falsely accosted look. She thumps her head against his chest once she’s close enough. Breathes in the scent of pastries from his patterned sleep clothes. “Xing-er’s such a good girl.”
Lu Jing huffs out a quiet laugh again. “Does it still hurt?”
His hands gently find their way to her waist, then to her lower back. Sha Yexing sighs in contentment, wrapping an arm around him and finally nuzzling his chest in earnest. He pushes the fabric of her night shirt up, and she pulls back to look up at him mischievously. Lu Jing clicks his tongue, shaking his head at her, fond.
He gently kneads the tense knots there, calloused fingertips against her damp skin working at the tight muscles beneath. She gives a muffled groan as the aches begin to slowly bleed away.
“It really does hurt,” Sha Yexing whispers at some point, voice slurred with drowsiness. "’M not lying.”
“I know you’re not,” Lu Jing answers, soft. Indulgent. Always so indulgent. Some awful part of her subconscious wants to take his indulgence and see how much of the twisted greed inside her it could take. The more present part of her mind hushes this, and the thoughts are easily dispelled by sleepiness.
Even more gently, as if sensing her drooping eyelids, Lu Jing gently slides his hand to the back of her knee, then pulls it softly so her leg is hitched across his hip. The movement has Sha Yexing blinking awake, and she feels a wicked smile curl at the corner of her lips as he works at the sore muscles of her leg.
“Gege’s awfully bold today,” she croons, shifting her head from beneath his chin.
“Yexing,” Lu Jing says, blinking, sensing her mischief.
She presses a kiss to his clavicle, grinning against his skin when he jolts ever so slightly. “You took photos of my matches? Did gege like the color of the skirt I picked out?”
He’s quiet, as if considering and recalling. “It went nicely with your sun visor,” Lu Jing answers thoughtfully.
“So gege paid attention to it.” She pauses, thinking to poke her tongue out suddenly to feel him flinch again, but decides against it. “Xing-er can wear a different one that he likes more, next time.”
Lu Jing says, “You always look pretty in any outfit.”
Sha Yexing stills. Her devilish smile fades, mind halting with the genuine statement. She’s not sure how to respond when she stops the teasing, stops the play-fishing for compliments.
“Thank you,” she whispers, sounding confused. Then, firmer, “thank you.”
Lu Jing hums.
She holds him tighter, suddenly. The awful voice in her head starts up again, a choir of terrible chanting, stay, stay, stay, perfect, you’re beautiful, you’re too good, be mine, mine, mine.
Ignoring them, she says, “Lu Jing is...nice in...everything, too.” Sha Yexing cringes at how the words fail to come out right. How to tell someone that they’re too brilliant to describe? “And...thank you, gege.”
The sunset blankets them, warm. In the quiet song of their intertwined heartbeats, the stars begin to creep into the sky.
who are you to tempt a sea of untold truths and beg for knowledge?
moonlight whispers against your collarbone, all but silent silk sticking to milky-white skin / you feel it, rather than see it / you do not remember how you arrived here. nevertheless, it does not matter: the drumming of waves beyond your ears and between your lips will act as your guide.
your breath catches in your throat, and you almost laugh because / you realize / like breath, what is essential for life is both abundant and precious, until it’s neither. will you risk that to plunge under waves of uncertainty for a glimpse of omniscience?
your eyes flutter under closed lids. / what is hidden hides for a reason / and perhaps this choir of waves crescendoing below deserves privacy. perhaps not. you do not know.
you open your eyes
well-worn waves dine on the stars with jagged teeth. you think you see something under the scraps of scattered reflection adorning the surface, but perhaps it’s all / abyss /
neptune calls to you with saltwater knives. licking your toes. stinging your knees / red / raw / wrapping frostbitten shadows round your waist. barnacles nip at the soles of your feet like impatient hounds.
you create ripples in the water as you wade further. you think: maybe the ocean is communicating through cryptic metaphors. the water is silent. you receive no answer tonight.
you hold your breath
there is this unspeakable fear that pulls on your wrists like rusty chains, pulls on your neck like slowly-numbing fingers, / yet / you’ve been taught not to let your knees buckle under the crippling weight of a shivering midnight. and so /
you drop your robe. slithering down your shoulders, fluttering lifeless behind you, carried away by conspiratorial waves. exposing you to a midnight jury, luminescent skin rubbed / red / raw / by icy water. dawn is far from the horizon, so you hope this inky wetness below, this cavern of nothingness, will be your guardian.