In the hospital bed

We thought we loved each other

Thought and felt and knew-

And as our bodies touched we thought

The closeness only grew-

Each brush of skin and fragile

graft a flush of breath two lips which

crash and each exchange would cinch

the last ’til our bodies spliced together.

 

We hoped we healed each other

Hoped and tried and failed-

Each kiss we gave we tried to stop

Our faces growing pale-

One bite to make a rosy

patch one scratch to change the skin from

black a desperate thrust which served to

mask our pieces dying, losing purchase.

 

So we poisoned each other

Killed and maimed and bruised-

And for a while believed that all

Our ailments could be soothed-

Injected pain and sadness

passed through open sores a growing

mass of disillusioned joy; at

last we identified our contagion.

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Yarn Painting

B: “We’d have to drill holes through the ceiling.”

A: “Well, that does it then.”

B: “Don’t be like that.”

A: “No, holes in the ceiling!

B: “Darling. Imagine.”

A: “I do imagine. A bit of sawdust, an easy patch-job. Unless you’d rather fly to Mexico. Their ceilings must already have the holes.”

B: “Nonsense. You think they walk around all day skipping over holes? They drill them, once the woman is pregnant.”

A: “What’s wrong with two little holes?”

B: “Imagine, if your toe slips inside!”

A: “A broken toe! Think of my vagina.”

B: “It won’t be broken, darling.”

A: “You ask the doctor, then. She said it may be torn all the way to my asshole.”

B: “I don’t know what you want me to say.”

A: “I want a little empathy.”

B: “This goes beyond empathy. It’s not about empathy. It’s about revenge.”

A: “I think it’s a beautiful custom. And the men in Mexico never think of it as punitive.”

B: “Of course they don’t. I wouldn’t say a bad word about anyone if I had my balls in a noose!”

A: “That’s ridiculous. It’s voluntary. They agree, and then they place their balls in the noose.”

B: “My brother thinks you’re crazy. He thinks I should leave you.”

A: “Ah, yes. The endlessly wise Mitchell. Leave your wife at nine months pregnant over a ceremonial practice.”

B: “I almost cried when I described it to him. I couldn’t get the words out. I felt ashamed, Astrid.”

A: “Let me hear what you told him.”

B: “What?”

A: “I want to hear how you put it to him. You didn’t even give it a chance, did you?”

B: “It’s quite straightforward, isn’t it? You want to rip my balls off every time you have a contraction.”

A: “I knew it.”

B: “What?”

A: “If that’s what you said to him, of course he hates it.”

B: “What’s to love, where’s the—”

A: “—if you only took care when you told people, explained the history. Women and men have been choosing this custom since before the Aztecs built their golden temples, when births were natural and the sky was clean and all around the couple were trees and…”

B: “We can have a natural birth. Darling, let’s have a natural birth. We can plop you right down in a meadow and make sure there’s lots of soft ferns and, I don’t know, let’s cut the umbilical cord with an arrowhead.”

A: “Don’t patronize me.”

B: “I’m sorry. Baby, I didn’t mean that. But let’s… let’s have that natural birth you want. Whatever you want. Did you think about water?”

A: “Yes, and have my baby’s first sensation be drowning.”

B: “Our baby.”

A: “I know. But that’s the whole point. The Huichol people use this as a way to acknowledge and honor paternal responsibility. It’s stopped infidelity, it’s reduced teenage pregnancy—”

B: “You don’t trust me.”

A: “Why would you say that?”

B: “You said it first. It’s about infidelity, is it?”

A: “No, don’t get defensive. I hate it when you—”

B: “I’m not. I’m not defensive. I’m scared for us. Do you think I’ll leave you?”

A: “Of course not.”

B: “Okay.”

A: “But you might.”

B: “Baby?”

A: “Once we have our kid. I mean, we don’t know what will happen.”

B: “Yes I do.”

A: “We can’t know.”

B: “I do. We’re going to be parents. We’re going to love each other. That’s it.”

A: “And what if… we don’t?”

B: “Don’t… have our kid?”

A: “Don’t love each other.”

B: “Do you—”

A: “Of course I love you. I’m not saying that. I just mean that everything will be different. Our lives will be upside down and we’ll be tired all the time, and we’ll fight, and we won’t have sex again. All of my friends have been telling me. And my mother, she’s like a direct dial line to my dismal future. When she had my sister, her vagina actually ripped—”

B: “Don’t tell me that. Astrid. You need to stop.”

A: “I- I mean, it’s true, we’d be fooling ourselves if we thought—”

B: “Darling. Wait. You’re spiraling. You need to stop letting them get to you.”

A: “It’s not all in my head, if that’s what you think.”

B: “That’s not what I’m saying. I just know that you’re so afraid, when you don’t need to be. You can’t think about those things. This is going to be the most wonderful—”

A: “Well it’s not happening to you, is it? It’s not happening to your body.” Her hands were on her chest. There was plaintive silence.

B: “Astrid.”

A: “I can’t recover from this. I will never be the same.”

B: “I know.”

A: “But you… you could walk away.”

B: “I couldn’t.”

A: “You wouldn’t. Because I know you. Because you’re a good man. But you could. And if you wanted to, you could start a new life, as if none of it had ever happened. You wouldn’t have the scars. Your penis would work just as well. You wouldn’t risk the depression or the psychosis…”

B: “That’s very rare. Darling. That’s not gonna happen to you.”

A: “Alright.”

B: “You’re right. It’s not fair. You’re right.”

A: “I’m just… afraid.”

B: “Come here.”

They whispered.

B: “You know that pulling on my balls isn’t going to make me stay with our family. It won’t be the thing that makes me a father. That’s… that’s going to be me. And trust.”

A: “I trust you. I trust you, but I can still have fear, can’t I?”

B: “Yes.”

A: “I love you.”

B: “Would the… would the ceremony make you feel better?”

A: “I’m not sure. I just like it.”

B: “We’ll do it. Then we’ll both be afraid together.”

A: “But I know that’s awful. I don’t want to make you feel pain, when you don’t have to.”

B: “You have to.”

A: “Yes, I do.”

B: “So we’ll do it together.”

A: “What if I… ruin you?”

B: “I don’t know. You won’t, will you?”

A: “I hope not. I don’t know exactly what’s safe.”

B: “Oh, god.”

A: “I mean, we’ll find out! I promise, we’ll be careful about it.”

B: “What have I done?”

A: “If only you knew, that day you kissed me…”

B: “I think it would still be worth it.”

A: “Do you mean it? We’re really doing this?”

B: “I mean it. Don’t let me change my mind.”

A: “Trust me, I won’t.”

B: “How kind of you.”

A: “My love. I can’t believe this is happening.”

B: “We need to stop talking about it, before I think it all through.”

A: “No, not that.”

B: “What then?”

A: “The kid.”

B: “The kid.”

A: “Ours.”

They looked at each other in contented disbelief. They laced their fingers together.

What does loving someone feel like?

What does loving someone feel like?

I asked myself this. Again and again. I was younger, not much younger, and I hadn’t yet felt what my heart was capable of. I have learned something since then. It was accidental learning; it was unlessoned learning, it seems like it is a knowledge which landed on me suddenly and from somewhere else.

I’m glad it did. I’m better for it. I never wanted to spend the rest of my life wrapped in the skills I had acquired hiding from pain and abuse. They came in handy as I sat cross-legged in the backyard with my brother listening to police sirens blare by our front door. I became skilled at receding, at ignoring, at crying without caring I was crying, at feeling merciless, a merciless daughter refusing to blame a father, refusing to hate a mother, refusing to feel for fear of feeling the wrong things. I was skilled at saving my pain up until the right moment, so I was never crippled, so I could always succeed, or appear to succeed. I was skilled at surviving. Watching my brother just barely survive. I could turn my love for my father off as if it were tied to a switch because doing so helped me turn off the self-doubt and the self-hatred which he insisted I keep. And I am skilled today, at rerouting my own emotions, as if my neural pathways are railway tracks. It is so simple for me to pull a lever and welcome anger instead of sadness. Apathy instead of heartbreak. I am still skilled at that. There is a process for it. I wonder if the process is unique to me, or how many others can understand it. It is like a wave; it starts in the back of my head, and then moves forward to where my forehead is. This stops the crying. The wave moves down my neck, easing the tightness, and into my chest, easing my lungs. This stops the feeling. The process only takes two to three seconds. And then I talk and my voice is normal and clear; and then I walk and my hands are not shaking; and then I can choose exactly when to reverse the process and pay the price for doing it.

I believe that during the worst of it all I went months at a time washed out like this. I thought it was funny how easy it was to exist in this state, and I congratulated myself on it. I thought my face looked funny in the mirror, a hard line at my lips and even, unblinking eyes.

I had a recurring desire to scream my lungs out. But I could never find the right place. If I screamed in the streets the lights in the houses would turn on and someone would call the police. If I screamed in a field a jogger would try to save me and stop me. If I screamed in my house, in my school, in a restaurant, I would never get away with it. Sometimes I tried- they were silent screams filled with air. My fists would ball and my mouth would widen until my jaw popped and wouldn’t un-pop, and the veins in my neck would bulge over the sound of a whisper. Other times I indulged in half-formed, nervous screams which could be muffled by my pillow. I didn’t want to be found out. I only allowed myself one or two good shrieks, grinded out between my teeth; toes curling. And there was the one time I guess I left my body. The screams left my mouth without my permission, without my command. My aunt was in the car with me. She must have been afraid. But I only felt regret, afterwards, that my consciousness had returned and stopped me from continuing.

But I’ll tell you something. I found victory, years after that. I used my body to carry me across a spit of land onto the point of an island; step after step along the caldera, until I reached a small white church on the top of a hill. And in front of this church was a ledge and I climbed that ledge. And there was no one around; no one around for a mile, and more perfectly there was a strong wind which battered my body and made me fear for my life on the ledge above the water. And I stood there- I stood my ground against that wind while the sun was setting and turning my vision orange, wind, hair covering my eyes, turning my vision black, and I finally did scream my lungs out.

I screamed and whooped and shrieked and was not afraid that someone would hear me. I heard me. And it was a sound I had been wanting to release for almost my whole life. No one could take it away from me. Only the wind; which did, it swept the sound far out over the sea seconds after it passed through my ears. And I thank the wind for letting me hear every decibel, and for being wise enough to know they shouldn’t be allowed to linger. Below me I could see a town called Oia, and I screamed and screamed and wanted them to be afraid, wanted them to believe there was a banshee in their hills by their church far above their houses, wanted someone to turn from their work to listen for a still second, wondering if they had heard something in the air. I wanted the cars winding by the coast on the other side of the point to hear me and know they could do nothing to reach me.

And I’ll tell you something else. I found victory, a year before that, over my heartlessness. I fell in love for the first time. And that love was a physical feeling too, but unlike a wave. Like a dust, a light, a shimmering cloud of spores or particles. It is a different process. It starts somewhere near my ribcage and proceeds to fill my whole chest like a vessel. And then it collects, until it forms its own vortex, as in a wind tunnel, which grips my heart and pulls it towards my lover. And that’s what loving someone feels like, physically feels like, which I regard when I look in the mirror, and see my rounded lips and kind eyes smiling back at me.

My old skills are vestiges of a life before love; and I use them without meaning to in the same way that people check their doorsteps for dead people. And I hate the wave and how easy it is to feel everything being washed away. It is so much easier to live with resentment than disappointment. But now every time I turn my feelings off I am more and more afraid I will get stuck that way, or perhaps, the worst fear of all, that this is my natural state and that love is the learned behavior. But I know which one I pored over and cultivated. I know which one I practiced over and over it again. It makes it harder to get rid of. But now I know what the alternative is- now I’ve finally felt it. Unlearning this will be difficult. But I’m in luck. Unfeeling my love can only ever be impossible. /

Don’t go where I can’t follow

I wanna go where you can’t follow

I want to exist in a vacuum of you

A crying, spinning, heartbreak vacuum-

but still- without you- still-

with me. I barely know who I am by myself anymore

Or who I was before. If I was anyone before,

but maybe that’s the problem.

I can’t wait to be free of you, while I’m missing you,

pining after you and becoming myself.

It’s not your fault, of course,

you couldn’t make me know myself

or not-make-me

You couldn’t stunt or confuse me, you couldn’t

enlighten or save me, you are just you;

who- I love with my whole life. You are

what I wanted when I thought I wanted

a soulmate. And I will miss you. I

just hope that while you’re gone

Something in me might change.

It took almost a year to realize-

Experience dictates that love is:

something that you must save.

/over/

Something you have in abundance,

ready to be given away.

A gift

/over/

Admission, an

Acceptance

/over/

Explosion.

Temptation, over

A tide, a

beginning

/A/

beginning;

Love

reveals how beautiful a love is:

which can make different people

be loved

in the same way that they are in love.

Shudder

When he died, it was on a corner near a dozing shopping mall, half-shelled and hulled of its meat, its people, filled only with caged storefronts and empty vats for melting cheese. The lights on the street-side had been dim for years but in morning they were nearly transparent. That morning he stood, and waited, with the lights to his back. He wanted someone to get there.

The whole thing had happened so early that it seemed it was the earliest it ever would be. I mean, it seemed like that hour had been specifically set aside for his death. Nothing else breathed or moved in the world at that time. There was only Andrew, and the car.

I don’t waste spare moments contemplating the mode, the method, operandi, operatory. It is easy enough to assume. Yes, there was alcohol. Yes, there was sidewalk. Yes there was blood on sidewalk yes there was.

That’s not what’s important here.

Okay?

I know what important things are.

For instance, I loved him- you could call that “important.” I loved him in a way that made my life different; and changed the shape of my body. I could feel the cavernous hole in my chest getting bigger to take in more love for him. I could feel it getting bigger and bigger, sucking my blood vessels into a whirlpool with a big wet smacking POP.

My love wasn’t a bad thing, though. It just took a lot,

and was very large.

Alright?

 

Andrew was known for his stories.

He was a writer in a way I never could be, always twisting and yarning and crafting his words. He loved to say we were different people, like the two scientists who were responsible for learning how to grow lima beans in space. Don’t ask me how he came up with this stuff.

One moment, it would just occur to him.

“Casp!” he’d say, “We’re inventors. We invented the first bendable stovepipe and now we’re millionaires!”

I’d laugh, and kiss his forehead, and speak with a fancy rich accent for the rest of the day. Our imaginations were the best part of us; they took us through a lot. I liked that he could always be in love with me, no matter what we did or where we lived or which millionaires we were that day. There was something comforting about pretending to be someone else. Maybe it was like falling in love with him all over again, each time.

Our sex became stories, too. The dueling warlords who fought with their cocks, the professor and the schoolboy. There were times when I missed the two of us, but it was almost easier that way. Our stories were exciting. Our lives could sometimes be plain.

What struck me through all this, though, was the time Andrew talked about his grave.

“I’m not shuddering, Casper, I’m shivering. I just get that sometimes.”

“You don’t have to have a seizure every time. You freak me out when you do that.”

“You know how they say when you shiver, it’s someone walking on your grave?”

“I guess.”

Andrew’s eyes started to sparkle, his writerly hands on my shoulders, he said “I think I’m going to have a very popular grave.”

He meant that he was going to be famous, of course. He saw hordes of pilgrims winding up a mountain road, bringing well-loved copies of his books and leaving tokens by his headstone. He saw generations of readers and literature-lovers kneeling in the soft dirt of his burial mound until it was reduced to sand and then dust. He thought maybe his place of death would be a point of interest, someday. I loved the way he could think.

It didn’t turn out that way, obviously. He was cremated, so I guess you could say his grave was where he died: where the wooden roadside cross sat spiked into the grass for exactly 27 days before it broke apart or disappeared. It was that corner, where he waited for a friend, where a friend just up and killed him. It got built over.

The drowsy mall became a vacant lot and the vacant lot became condos, and when the condos went decrepit they put trees and a park there instead. The park was slowly invaded by biking paths that became road crossings and a new mall was built around them, this time with elevators like drive-through bank tubes and shiny stainless counters over which passed melted cheese. It’s a busy place, a popular place, that brings new money into the neighborhood. There is no grass to spike in American flags, wreaths, or photos.

I miss him all the time so I go there, anyway. I buy the soft pretzel with a lemonade and cross the street to sit on a bench. The people passing are reading trashy novels and probably only smoke out of rigid pipes; they traipse back and forth all day and into the early morning. They stream into the mall and out again, and in, and out.

I wish it didn’t turn out this way. I am reminded that it’s really hard to love someone.

Andrew’s grave, it turns out, is a crosswalk.

Eleven (11)

I am closing my eyes to see you.

I see you with closed eyes.

You seem,

In pain,

My hands are holding your face.

I am kissing your forehead.

Nothing else matters,

Although all of you matters.

But my love is leaving my lips.

The minute hand turns and I

Cross myself

Did you feel it?

That was my wish.

Future Lover

Future lover

We are getting ice cream.

I see you in the crevices of light, little chinks of golden glow between the palm leaves.

You are the reds (of course)

And the greens

You are burnished copper.

I never thought that sunrises were as spectacular

But you did.

We’re with your family, and they

Tell me sunrise is better.

Future lover, I took you for tea

You fell in love the way I did with

Nostalgia stacked,

What I had left.

You saw all I had to give.

You loved me.

I am more than enough,

My family tells you,

Get married in the morning.

You nod your head and silently smile

You know some things

are better.

Ex Lover

Maybe I need to remind myself,

Future me,

How it felt to be with him.

I don’t want you to forget.

Maybe it would help to trace the outline

Of his face and ask yourself

What more you wanted than this.

I’ve only listened to his heart a couple times

But I’m sure it’s full of things complex and tired just like mine

I’m sure he wants the same from me.

I’ll tell you how it felt, then

To kiss him.

Felt like sharing our umbrella

Oxygen tank

Felt like melting at the same rate

Newton’s law of slow unconsciousness.

If only I could describe to you,

The shadows on his body shape

Those were the places

My mouth wanted most, maybe because

I related.

Remember:

The backs of his ears.

It’s an uncommon thing to be allowed to touch there.

Please remember:

The feeling of being clean

Of being terrified, but safe

Of feeling wanted.

No, I know I’m wanted.

This was more than

that.

 

Resolved

Nope. Me neither.

I won’t make up any New Year’s resolutions.

I don’t want to boil down my future to a checklist. I want to spend this year and the next and every indeterminable length of time after those to continue to move forward, to always feel better and happier and stronger, to accomplish things I didn’t know I wanted to do. I will be better for the good things that happen without my expecting them; much less my planning for them. I will be better for the curve balls and the epiphanies and every single thrilling discovery I make.

After all, falling in love was a curve ball.

Essay writing was an epiphany.

Happiness is a resolution which can neither be written down nor ever checked off.

I wouldn’t want it to be.

But for my immediate future? Yes, I have some thoughts. Some guidelines.

I want to stop being ashamed of putting the highest emphasis on connections with people I love. I want to start being better at allowing those connections to exist; to reach out to the friends who were kind to me, who I miss, to stop ruling myself an outsider and cordoning myself off.

I have a feeling that 2017 will be a year that needs a lot of postage.

I have a feeling you’ll be hearing from me soon. /