Muscles made of brick and hope
I sweat against the floor and the floor pushes back. Gravity eats me, the carpet shares the secret of stinging knees. You wonder about this game I play with myself. Do you see this as an extension of my self-loathing? When I whinge about the pain or the food or the time, are old habits sliding up my spine, stealing crumbs from my lips, pinching the pudge [what there is] of my belly? Do old insults and dreams of control peer around the corner? Is it falling under the boughs of the skinless tree, the thing you never want to say, anorexia, or perhaps a greater demon, one that sends me shrieking down into the dark?
Hold for a moment. Let me tell you a secret.
Happiness is being uncomfortable.
The tiny fears, tiptoes across a new line: the joy singing in my bones as muscles ache, as truths are spat against this screen, as I smile at someone new. Trumpets, all. The wild riot of the world is in the gravel under my bare feet, kisses are concealed in teeth, what you think is my effortless sailing through ways and words is hours on days of barely failures, alone and honest, grit in my grin, blood on my lip, pushing until the love breaks through. It is love, isn’t it? Toughening dreams with dialogue, leaping a little higher. I’m king of the world, as are you. Did you forget the fumblings in the pre-dark when we swapped crowns?
Torn and shorn, rebuilt, I am not quitting. I am not quitting.
What do you want to be?
I am not an adult.
As I paint my nails, as I pay my bills, as I pet cats, play with bits of twig, hum “The Calendar Prince” in the shower.
I run away from so much, not realizing it’s a trail of blood and stones. No birds will come and let me slip away into the woods.
Isn’t that how witches are made? The little ones who wander and like it? Whose sense of self grows to the clearing, the canopy of leaves, the sky; they don’t want to eat the children, but they won’t go away. Find your own forest to get lost in.
“I’m no good at any of this,” I say to my water bottle, “why do they trust me with more than words?”
The river, silt and sand, laps at the brush, broken shells, beer bottles. Waves are slapping at gulls, barges in the channel are sounding, a train on the bridge follows. Discordant thrum, Mississippi farts, I heard someone call them. The sun is setting and rain is coming, but I’m as far as I can get from the folding chairs, sorting pebbles and reeking of filthy water.
Erika, get in the boat.
I don’t want to get in the damn boat; don’t you get it? If you leave me here, this becomes something new. The world forces itself on me with a slap and a crash, and my thoughts spread out wide wide, as wide as they can go, barely disturbed by lighthouses and buoys, so self-absorbed in my wanderings that I fold in on myself, invisible to the ugly men who follow me from school, invisible to anyone who wants something of me. Just give me five more minutes, please, let me codify this experience, let me wrap words around the glowing shell-gray of the sky, pinhead toe prints in the sand, drying curls whipped into a halo. This is what I’m here for, to keep these memories, to find you later with them polished and lovely, to give you the gift of my heart.
Grumbling, I clean my office.
Awake and further awake
It’s as simple as a switch, to wake and grin at the world and say, “This is mine, this will be mine, this, then, was always mine.” To realize pain is no longer there, that the dreams have come back, that my hands are marvels, that my body waits, eager to act. The head that sweats blue, the breasts pale in the half-light, what gives me the gift to attack the world with the dance of my days and where does it go when it leaves? It would seem like such a small thing; I am such a small thing, measured against the density of stone, the flush of lava under my feet, the core crushed and uncaring and we’re not even looking up yet, looking at the flight of birds, the sweep of space, the far off heartbeats of black holes. Does this spark take a tour? Does it wheel around the flowers squirming out of the ground, the billions of lives that tick by and brush against each other, does the kiss of comprehension and desire come to each of us in turn, slipping away in a gray haze and a muffled sob to someone else, who comes to with an inexplicable smile and a will to run circles around art?
Whatever it is, I’ll take it, she cries, and plunges her arms into life.
These things are made of me.
Spiral. Deer. Porcelain. Tree.
There are books and books in the quiet heart, my hands are inching along spines, gracefully grasping the way a thousand hands have. Here here, where has my city gone?
I haven’t been writing because I’ve been writing, or or…it’s hard to see this as anything more than mental detritus, the fluff that comes when I crack open and can’t handle dialogue, action, meaning, but.
It also makes it the most truthful. These are the words in my head, seared on the inside of my skull with electric hues, careening with a maddening momentum, easily forgiven in their enthusiasm.
Perhaps someday, I’ll learn how to say to people: This sentence is a painting, is a wonder, is a dream, began as a misty vision and was refined through my iron teeth, my raspy tongue, was shaped around a breath, a pause, a place for you to rest inside everything I say. The shape of this sentence is art; convert the frequencies to colours and it will be the sunset from your first date, the stars you saw when everyone was asleep, that thought I watched you half-whisper and forget. This part of me is yours, the meaning is yours, the shape my heart takes in your hands is yours, and only yours. I love you with words.
Recycling of old dreams and burnt letters
When I think of you, I smell roses: a dozen, disposable deaths to your vanity. I smell the thousand lies of your legacy, taste the exclusive laughter, wonder why your sandbar curves so wide through the river of me. I have been an exemplary citizen with your old life, entrusted with your loved ones. There has been no salting of the fields, no burning of bridges. Hands have not been slapped away even as I’m turned inside-out, gagging your gifts into the alley. What wonderings others might entertain when so abandoned, I carry none. The roads of you are familiar, bricked with conversations I’ve deleted, mortared with oracular expectorations. The fluffs of you that float by these days are a parade of comparison, not that a new lover might be found wanting on your scale, but that I’m not just dashing down the way of Not You, whichever You might be. As I’m fond of repeating these days, I’m too old for that shit.
I wish to be done marking miles with lays, tracing scratch-red spines as if checking tasks, steeling my resolve against love with lust. While fun, let’s be frank, there’s too much burying memories with a welt-stained dalliance and I’d like to be done with digging graves. Blood on the thigh, sun on the snow, the new year’s come.
Hearts go on being broken.
I have lost my patience. What was once an endless hunt is a swift slaying, made so by my lengthening legs, the fire in my gut, the path found by moonlight. Was I lost in my lack of game, content to search for doors in the woods, restless only after the discovery of prey? One after another, down and down and down down down, their little hearts go, their little arrows sticking in my throat. I am a human animal, after all, leaping through gullies in my new skin, bright and lithe as starshine, sharpening my claws on sweet words and minced meanings. Bleeding and gasping, limping and learning, what was once a place I never touched I roll in freely, breaking skin on barbs, finding traps in their hands.
‘You could be a child for all you run,’ comes the thought, comes the voice, a kinder voice, a wiser voice. It wants me to temper my traipsing, use reason as I stalk, find a challenge among the trees. My want will have none of it. Bristling under the leash, steam oozing from its teeth, it’s all I can do to cry, “Whoa, whoa,” and spiral it up the slopes. I can’t change quickly enough for me, spinning through ways and means like the last round of Russian roulette. The pain should teach where my feet shouldn’t go, no?
Wild hair and a love greater than salt
Down comes the hammer: sleep. Down comes the weather: dreams. I come to muzzily, sheets kicked to the kitty corner, comforter rotated ninety degrees. The nightmares are heavy things, filled with dying statues, nail-less hands, screams turned into whispers that I can’t hear through the static of living.
The static of living. That’s how I think of the waking world. It’s a mass of tiny tasks perpetually sliding into an entropic mess. The only things I hang onto are the ones I made, and those are few and far between. Quite often I find myself crouched in the shower, watching my skin raise and redden in the heat that gives me permission to think, musing hard on the hours spent texting, talks over coffee I don’t drink, museums and hand-holding, enthusiasm and loneliness bubbling out of me in equal concentrations. I want demands, I want someone to grab my heart and squeeze, I want to have all of my attention required. Let us lead the merry chase and even if I end up lost, it will be something *new.*
I chide myself constantly for thinking no one right now can offer me a challenge, but my flag stands on the hill, my boots on their fingertips. Call me away from the spiral of myself, please, I am afraid of falling again.
Why hide what you set on fire?
The green road begins, sliding between rock-strewn hills under a dank, low sky. Above the clouds, dribbling rain like an idiot, the gods are pressing down, printless fingers occasionally peeping through, blinding the fortunates. They’ve got tests to run, have been slack with us and never had the wits for metaphor. Until then, the mountains crumble to sand, trees explode into tinder, children worm along on their little bellies, wailing when the atmosphere gets too heavy. All we want, slithering down this moss-stained road, is that enough of us survive to sacrifice.
I can scratch my own shoulderblades.
Someone coming I am not here I am not here all this running gets me nowhere all these dreams rot off and drop behind me I wish I wasn’t a worrier I wish I knew I had your heart back into the woods with myself until the trees answer
Sit and watch for doorways, arches, fallen branches, gravel pressed into the knee, pants smeared with green, mosquito on the neck but don’t you flinch don’t you dare blink because everything is opening up and the air is full of secrets and anything is sacred don’t you remember the singing joy I’ve been crying again it’s nothing I’m just happy
Hang a minute just a moment aren’t you shrouded in endless vertical space right there? The walls go up the currents slide down the walls it’s mausoleum quiet and you and the house are both breathing waiting for the sky to press down and comfort you with inescapable force taking brick by beam into a rusted caern of centurial memories did their skirts sweep the floors? did the gentlemen feel out of place? was every rule they had broken anyways and do you remember a goddamn jack of ‘em or are they ghosts kissing your calluses and sweat-painting your curls, damned to be your hidden friends and right angle window to where the stories come from?
It’s clogged it’s been clogged you’re terrified nostrils dripping shaking your head no no and why why where are the things that touch me or did he take them all away sweetheart darling it’s called practice it’s called inertia it will carry you all the way I promise just get out there and click those keys until you can sleep knowing the dreams will be better trust me trust me pain’s always going to be waiting you can find something beautiful in the you-sized gaps between
Grit your teeth, you steel-gripped bitch. Did the wild smile drown in fall? Did the endless confidence fade with the daylight? Who are you to fake it again? Who are you to let everyone down by shoving them out? At the bottom, eyeballs burning, back of the neck throbbing with your heartbeat, you find the iron tower of yourself, the precipice of do or die, and goddamn them everyone, you do. There is survival and steam, rust and a moonstone soul, cratered and beaten and and… waiting. You have wings, the kiss of Father Time, and all the new mistakes to make. Bring back a full parchment; bring us the legend of yourself.