chai tea burns my palms as i wait
for the sun to break the morning chill
i light sandalwood incense, one stick after another
as if i am a chain-smoker
funneling my craving into this cane of resin
and i am hoping the spirals of smoke and
harsh words and scalding water
scour me inside-out, scrub me raw
from the bad things i have done and continue to do
because i do want to live
but there must be mud and mold and tangles of plaque
growing inside my chest and skull
for i talk about feeling dirty and
not knowing how to clean
to forgive myself
when i wanted to know everything you had ever wished for
my heart was thick with hope
and desire visited me as i slept; she sent me
dreams of your legs churning on the dike by the river
kicking up gravel in your wake
now i turn if i see you on the street, pretend
to become very interested
in the hollyhocks as i compose myself to return
to the ocean with fresh wounds, i am silent
because sharks smell blood and i am hurt
it is almost worse
that you greet me so cheerfully, your smile
burrowing deep into my chest and nestling there
when i wanted to know everything you had ever feared
my mouth was thick with my fondness for you
everyone could see it when they peered into my face
and commented on the warm glow of my skin, the deep
healthy shine of my eyes
now i turn if i catch my reflection in the mirror, for
bitterness is still clenched in my teeth
and love has gone sour in my mouth
yet i cannot stop chewing it over
hoping the sweetness will return
Mountain rock breathes cool on nape of neck,
where I’ve pulled hairs in fits of nerves.
Boulders varnished white and gray bounce back
a marmot screech across the lake. A late call
to flee, or hide. My howling feet beg for rest
on perfect granite slabs. Like ivory cut
by rain and time. I think mastodons roamed
lakes like this, dipping trunks in ice.
Ghosts might rove this meadow now.
I count clouds that traipse along the peaks
where climbers cling; I am not one of them
today. Bruised feet in grass, I dream.
All that happened was on a bright blue day
I saw you bent over your bike in the heat
your bronze back arched with knobs of spine
as if the knuckles of some creature were
trying to press their way out of your ribcage
stretching your bones like hungry claws
All that happened was I fell in love
with the delicate curve of your skeleton
wrapped in freckles and blonde
All that happened was I returned home with
a sheen of sweat on my forehead
and a hunger for your heart
I could sleep the day away,
awash in medicated dreams and
barely clinging to reality.
I could drink the dusk to sleep,
the scent of lilac calling me
like a siren to the brink.
I’m barely here anymore,
hardly attached to the dream
in which I sink.
It’s been a while since I wrote.
It’s been a while since I felt safe in this body,
and curled into my thoughts for a rest,
without learning each breath by rote.
It’s been a month since Hell grabbed me by the ankle.
I was laid out on a hospital table.
When the man asked me what happened I couldn’t recall,
but my body tells the tale when it’s able.
This body shows the story I wrote.
I did it to myself. I put the pen to skin and it broke;
The Hell, I wrote into my fable.
Dawn sun streaks through the blinds and I would rather be sleeping
But I am reading, sipping echinacea lemon tea with honey
And remembering when I was ill as a child, terrified of the flu
I prayed Mom would stay home with me because
When I was sick she would be there there. And if she wasn’t
All I had to do was get a little sicker. I could call her
And she would let me watch TV on weekdays in a sleeping bag
While she ran to the store for popsicles and Saltines
Knowing she would return to pore over paperwork at the table
Or chat with her sister on the phone, hushing Kari’s sick
Checking on me when I didn’t get out of bed
One time she was still at work when I threw up and I cleaned
My own vomit off the sink. And cried because I wanted her there
To sit on the edge of my bed and smooth my hair
When she got home she said You didn’t have to do that, but I did
And I sank into her arms because breathing finally came easy again
Today I lie in a sleeping bag alone, writing poems and papers
Today I am an adult, taking care of myself
And missing my mother