dirty

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

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love gone sour

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

Your Bones

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

Rusty Poem

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.

no reason

it is no one’s business what i do to my body
with my body
or with knives
if smothering my wrists in bruises keeps me alive

how many times will the hospital take me in?

my sister is on another continent
humming with jungle creatures
and i am tempted to go to sleep in the snow
they say the body feels warm again
at the end of hypothermia

please don’t ask why
i hate trying to explain that i’m sad for
no reason
some things can’t be explained
there’s no reason

one best friend is in portland
one best friend is on another continent
buzzing with rickshaws, i guess
i am tempted to fall asleep in a bottle of wine
they say you feel very tired
in the final stage of cirrhosis

Under New Ownership

People see my body and stare.
Then look away,
look away,
look away.
Don’t look.

Drawn towards me. They want to envelop me,
cover me, save me, protect me.
Shelter me like a roof. Catch the raindrops
from hitting my face.

My face is open to pain.
My face is a book of betrayal.
My face was painted with dying hope.

I am in love with being loved.
Having love forced on me- making love-
of having it shoved in me, twisted and jabbed
and my voice smothered and stifled,
hands ensnared, throat crushed.
Am I in love with this?

Drawn towards me, they want to envelop me,
smother me, wreck me, infect me.
Scatter me like ashes, spread me thin in a windstorm
so my body will never be connected
or whole
again.

They tell me I am in love with being broken.
They stare, and they know my body is theirs.
It has never been mine.
There are cracks where past lovers shine through.
We will do that for you
so they tell me.

Apology to My Sister

I called you.
A month ago
I left you a voicemail, cordial
with a tinge of plaintive.
Could you tell?
You were drifting on the Hudson,
teaching schoolchildren about tides
or sailing or algae.
Were you cold there, at night?
I think of you when I can’t sleep,
and want to apologize
for pointing that knife at you
when we were kids.
Being a kid
doesn’t excuse that.
I am also sorry
for using my hands and words on you,
or not using them at all.
My silence might have been
the most painful tool.
Tomorrow I fly away
to another home, missing you
by hours.
We’ll share the sky,
gazing at the same fleecy clouds
and patchwork fields,
absorbed in our own respective storylines.