Open Hands and Silence

Poetry by someone who cannot write poetry.

all these clouds to cup my hands around, yes
abandoned barns and houses with boarded up eyes and
I can’t sleep tonight just like the night before
all this noise in one silent, stuttering thought and an echo
echo
I am empty now like the houses
but all this wind to run my fingers through
your hair oh I want to
when you smile across the table
“if you can do this, you can play the flute”
and your breath singing all through the amber glass bottle
sweet and low
sweet and low

Tell Chicago I’m Not Homesick

I gave you my heart in Hyde Park where I was born in the University Hospital with no time for paperwork. Forty-five minutes– Whatever came after, I swear I was born wanting to live. I gave you my heart and you had it every sunrise and every sunset that gave way to an orange night sky, hiding the stars to preside over silent-night sirens like the night dad came in the back door dripping blood all down the hall, but that was just what happened, Chicago. Sometimes we bled, and some bled more than others, you know, you have to know, the way your police save their serve-and-protect for your kids with the right color skin and their fists and their guns for everyone else. You were fourth-of-July fireworks set off in parks and some of them were gunshots. Chicago, sometimes they don’t get back up. Sometimes we stand on sky and you know just how many times my heart sang walking down Michigan Avenue in the sun because you had it, and you still had my heart when I fell in love in Iowa.
Growing up, I learned to love the smell of car exhaust but to hold my breath anyway. Growing up, I learned not to step on broken glass but no one ever warned me about picking it up. Chicago, no one warned me at all. My heart beat fast in your asphalt fist on the number six bus avoiding eyes, avoiding I’s, but you were my certain stretch of broken limestone along the edge of the Lake that I knew and named and needed.  God, I needed you. I really did.
Chicago, you call me when the air’s too clear, like the song, “calling me home.” You call me in the rattle of the trains like the men on the Red Line– “what’s your name, girl? what’s your name?” I’ll tell you; for the first time, my name is Not Yours, Not Theirs, Not Anyone’s and I’m sorry I can’t beg for forgiveness this time. When I come back, I’ll give all the cash in my wallet to your boys and girls in sidewalk sleeping bags, I’ll listen for music on the breeze and run right into traffic just like I used to do and you’ll know me, Chicago, and I will know you less and less with each return, as I do, as I have, ’cause Chicago, I fell in love in Iowa.
Tell them I love them. Tell it like you saw me die. Tell it like you couldn’t save my life, so tell the truth. Take care of my heart; it beats with the crash of the waves on concrete, pulling blood along your streets, along your veins, singing along Lake Shore Drive. I am there. Grow tall while you can and break hearts ’cause you must. Break me if you dare, but I’m gone. Tell them I’m gone. Show them what I left with you and tell them what I learned: that home isn’t always where the heart is, not if the fear lives there, too. Not if the knife lives there, too. Chicago, tell them I’m okay. Tell the knife I’m not coming back.

On Wednesday four boys lay dead
on the beach where they played
and there is no way to describe this beautifully that does anything but
hide it, because it is not beautiful.
It is not a beautiful thing, the oldest
was eleven and yesterday in the Home Depot
I watched an eight-year-old boy with his two-year-old brother
patiently carry the child from one green tractor to the next
green tractor,
his face serene
with concentration from lifting
this little boy
in his limited arms
and every time his brother pointed to the next one,
he would nod–
and there are no words to describe this more beautifully
than it already
paints itself.

When I’m home alone and I hear someone at the door,
my heart
stops,
for the same reason I won’t look over my shoulder when I walk alone.
When I look in the mirror I avert my eyes from the parts of myself I still
have not learned how to love.
I’ve told too many stories about bears
roses
homicidal gerbils
to the people who look at my arms before they look
at my face,
and how many nights have we spent curled together,
with you hiding your face and me feeling your shoulders jerk as your breath
catches as you try
you try
you try to cry,
while you say useless
“No”
worthless
“No”
wasted
“No!”
undeserving and I remind myself that I know nothing
about forgetting how to love this–
This, that carries me through the longest days and wears the arms
that hold you.

The word “anger”
is crossed out so hard in my dictionary that the pen
tore through the paper.
I am serene, but the children are dead,
the parents are dead,
the children are dead and home
is also synonymous with trap, home
is something we must build and never can come back to, but home
is not, cannot be
the place where I have to destroy something I’ve made just to get up off the couch
just to remind myself what I deserve
and put it aside put it aside put it aside
everything is more important than the way screams
turn to blood in your throat,
the way no
was never in the dictionary at all so yes,
when you ask me,
I am tired.
And I swear by this pounding heart,
these ribs are not a cage,
these hands are not clipped wings, this voice
is not a mistake; Yes.
I am tired,
and I will burn this world down.

My roses are dying on the ledge.
This is not a metaphor.
Do what I could, I couldn’t keep them alive,
and this is not mine.
Anger is not mine–
not since I felt my last line of defense crumbling in my hands.
At the time, I thought
“This is what you get.”
I may have said it out loud.
I may have been weeping.
I may use the language of possibility as opposed to certainty to deny reality when it comes to things
I cannot bear.
There’s no keeping myself safe now; sometimes a dead rose is just
a dead rose,
and believe me when I tell you that when you say “the ugly truth,”
no matter what the context, I think of my reflection.
This
is what I get.
It isn’t poetry.
It isn’t a metaphor.
Not anymore.

I bowed beneath the anguish of this strangled need
and the bricks were cool under my shoulder
the rain was waiting
until the sun went down
I wait until I’m alone to weep
I wait until it’s gone to admit I wanted
all I wanted
all I ever wanted all I ever

Oh, I was young
and I was breaking
and no one ever told me I was brave
but I held in my heart an indescribable sky
Now I know better
I know better
Now it’s gone

The sky is wide here, and deep
and, through the window,
we watch the clouds go by.
He told me looking up will make you sick and I thought “don’t look down,”
but through the window, I watch the clouds go by.
There is something solid under me,
something brave inside me.
It will not let me fall.

Edge

Yesterday something simple as
“Can you throw this away from me?” turned into a scene out of a horror movie. You know,
the ones where it turns out you’re the killer at the end
your hands moving of their own accord like mine did
when he gave me the light bulb and something in my bones said
close the distance
and just like that, my hand was full of what was left
of light
blood on the floor like roses and pieces were all that was left and my supervisor
Oh god what happened what
and me saying I don’t know except I did
I did

Only that’s not what happened at all, no
my grip tightened, tightened
and then the bulb was in the garbage fast
as flinching
like it had burned me
It almost did just like
in the end it turns out you’re the killer
and I am kind until you give me something to break

Down at register two they hang brand new knife blades on the counter and I look at them all day
pace the same five feet all day
but I don’t want them

Last Light

running through the parking lot like fleeing
like flying
barefoot and fast enough to catch the light and my heart
is beating in my hand
these are the moments my god
I almost have the words
and it’s something like “remember”
something like “home”
or “here”
my blood humming
along the telephone wires
hands reaching for the sky and it’s something like my breath
like sun
like song

Go to bed, Pandora.
The words you’re looking for are in the box
on the table and I know all you want
is to explain,
but trust me.
A poem like that is too expensive
at this time of night.
A poem like that will leave blood on the walls for the one
sleeping
in the other room to clean up
when they wake.

Just don’t, sweetheart.
Go to bed.
Dream, for once,
of safety.

It’s been insane lately, and I suppose I have, too. We could talk about finals and moving into our first apartment and job search and the usual mental health nonsense, but that’s not the point. The point, right now, is that A. and I are officially ensconced in our new place and have unpacked enough to make a book nook. The window is open, and I can hear birds outside. Inside, the room smells like vanilla and fresh basil and lavender, and it’s quiet. I can look up and see A. across the room, safe and here and… Well. They just made a face at me. But that’s the thing, you guys. It’s been forty-three days since I last deliberately hurt myself, the person I’ve fallen in love with is my best friend and we make the best team I’ve ever had the privilege of being a member of, this apartment feels like home already, and crappy frozen pizza tastes pretty damn good when you add your own seasoning and extra cheese.

Poetry is important, too, and poetry can be part of moments like this, but sometimes– Sometimes it all goes quiet, and sometimes that’s exactly what you need. I write to get the bad blood out, and you all have seen some of my darkest nights what with one thing and another. Thank you for sticking by me. I’d like to share the evening with you, too.

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