Open Hands and Silence

Poetry by someone who cannot write poetry.

I want to close my eyes and take a deep breath and be better.
Better. Do you understand? Not sick and dysfunctional and hurting everyone around me because I can’t hold myself together. Oh god.

Oh god, I want to sleep.

I hate that my life is so easy. I hate that it’s the education that I should be grateful for–that I am grateful for–that does this to me.

But no. My god, it’s the summer, too; it’s the quiet days, too; it’s every day; it’s every day and I can’t write anymore. I can’t write anymore.

I can’t feel anything as strongly as I feel fear anymore.

Please don’t worry; I’m not going to hurt myself. I am done with that. I am done with that. This is the longest I’ve ever gone without it and you’d better believe I’m proud of myself. But maybe please do worry. Maybe ask me, “what the fuck is wrong with you?” I don’t know. “Are you okay?” No. No.

I’m forcing myself to get out of bed, I’m forcing myself to keep the apartment clean and anyway it’s not clean, All I want is to sleep. Just sleep. I’m sorry.

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry.

This is stupid and self-indulgent and not what you came here for. I’m so sorry.

Some kind of an explanation

It’s not that I miss anguish, but maybe I miss something coming of it. I know something came of it. Something to fight means something to defeat, maybe, and if not, at least a story to tell. I was notorious for writing the opposite of happy endings once. I was notorious for writing. It’s not that I miss the blood on my hands or the dance along the edge of the rooftop, but I miss having something to say about it. I miss having something to say. My father and the blank page have the same complaint: “You make me do all the talking.” It’s not that I miss fighting. It’s just that so little seems worth fighting for anymore. So little seems worth mentioning. I stopped writing love songs to the war and now I don’t write anything, anything.

The Sky-Carriers

When she had a headache I opened the freezer
and put my hand flat
on the metal shelf, the frost rough
under my hand.
No one questions the way
we keep boxes full of winter in our houses,
and I stayed there until my palm was red,
was white on the peaks of it.
There are things you just have to do.
And in the winter this sky
grows cold,
cold.
It sinks toward the earth,
burdened with ice.
Before it numbs,
it’s like a knife, like fire.
I kneel.
Brace my shoulders.
There are things you just have to do.
Oh Atlas, I am sorry.
I am sorry.

Persephone to Icarus

Child, it is not for me to teach you to regret.
There was a time I would have swallowed fire,
held live coals
on my tongue just to feel warm again.
I still grow heavy
when the river rises.
He sleeps beside me while I
shiver.
There are nights I sink
a thousand miles below the Earth
and never move.

Child, they tried to keep us safe.
They kept us in
out of the seasons, wrapped so tight we couldn’t
feel the wind. They said be careful. They,
the ones we leave behind.

There is so little light here.

The choice is not a war, child.
The choice is a pomegranate seed,
is just a little further.

I know. I know you never meant.

I know.

A secret, child:
There was such a thing as Winter
before I came here.
The choice is bitter, child, burning.
The choice is sharp
but ours.
But ours.

Ways of Describing Things

Cat. Pet. Animal. Gray.

Shirt. Sweater. Clothing.

Bin. Trash. Trashcan. Plastic. Wastebasket.

House. Apartment. Home. Empty.

Medication. Pills. Citalopram. Celexa.

Woman. Girl. Student. Sister.

Blade. Knife. Weapon. Enemy. Edge.

Girl. Human. Statistic. Enemy.

Poetry. Words. Writing. Unnecessary.

Girl. Woman. Lifeboat. Experiment.

Woman. Water. Irrelevant. Heart.
A goddamn
burning
house.

The Recorder Player

Him
wool poncho bristle beard
follows laughter like water
like drowning in the desert
he knows
he likes the smiles

Her
hair tangled like time and
twelve summers in
backyard summerhands
bare arms bathing suits splash splash shriek
listen

Him
recorder tunes to picket fence
nodding like he knows

Her here
suspended
hearing

 

down
down

down

 

Him
wool poncho tremblehands
heavy feet nodding
like he can’t help it
serenading street corners Her

eight more summers gone wrists no better
playing sad songs backward
wrong side of the fence
remembering

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.

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