Open Hands and Silence

Poetry by someone who cannot write poetry.

Breakup Letter to the Edge

We never said a real goodbye; you realize that? You’re not the type to need closure. That was always me. You’d tell me things don’t have neat endings. You can’t just move on, you’d say. Everything leaves a mark. I’d say I know, I know; it just would be nice, you know?

Nice, you’d say. “Nice” isn’t for you and me.

I used to count the days since we last touched. I don’t do that anymore. You made me feel like nothing else. God, nothing in the world makes me feel the way you did–open to the whole world with all my secrets bared to light and safe behind steel walls three feet thick at once. Strong. Like nothing could touch me. Nothing I couldn’t take but being without you. I miss you some days.

I think of you.

You told me I would always come back to you, and often as not I’d agree with you. Probably will, I’d say, but it’s the principle of the thing. You didn’t answer that; you didn’t have to. Sometimes I’d deny it, but I didn’t learn to not reply at all, until I did. I guess I did. I don’t remember the last time we spoke. I think of you. Maybe I’ll always think of you.

You touched parts of me that never should have seen the light of day. You knew me so fiercely. I wept from places I didn’t think tears could come,  thicker than water, leaving stains I can’t wash out. You knew me, but you were never good for me. I think of you. Some winter nights I’ll walk the streets of our old haunts and feel your ghost over my shoulder.

I’ll step wrong on the ice.

Baby, when that happens, I’ll reach up and strike the wind chimes hanging from a bare branch and let the music follow me home. You’re with me. You’re the broken glass crunching under my heel on the corner of Minvera and Marquette, stuck to the wall with blue poster tack above my partner’s desk. I’ll be buried with you. You’re written on my skin. I think of you.

You made me feel like nothing else. I’ll never feel that way again. Thank god. Thank god I’ll never feel that way again.




December in Iowa

These days the nights are longer.
After work I wash sap from my hands,
and the cemetery’s bright with Christmas lights
that shine for dear departed,
and for me
when I walk home.
I know my way in the dark.
I feel the weight of my steps
and the thud thud thud
of my bag on my hip
out of time with the beat
of my heart and the tug
of the tide when the moon rises over Lake Michigan
and I am not there to see it.
These days I reach for memories
of longer nights than these,
of washing blood down the sink.
I unlock an empty apartment,
call it home.
I clench my teeth and breathe the cold.
I call it home.
I think of all those lights among the graves.
We set ourselves alight for things that leave us.
We burn to ash for things we leave behind.


Last night I dived
one million lifelines below the churning waves.
The bones I found could have been anyone’s.
I woke before I learned.
I had to breathe.

And they say,
“Let go.” They say, “Move on.”
They say, “I hate seeing you like this,”
but I don’t look in mirrors anymore,
and brush stray threads from my hair.

When you return, I know
you will not spare five minutes
for ten years of what I have undone for you.
I know you’ve fought your monsters. I have watched.
I see them in my sleep.

And you would rather tie yourself to the mast to hear their voices,
you would rather call yourself No-one
than hear me say the name I gave you.
Every night, I tear apart the progress I have made.
Every morning, I wake alone, and back at where I started.

They say your silence is too loud;
they say your shadow is heavy enough to hold me down.
They ask whose shroud I’m really weaving, but I wait.
I weep.
I watch you from the shore.

When the young man in the four-door calls me a whore and laughs in my face

Underneath the asphalt of this street,
there is black soil. There is rock
and fire. Mother, in years gone by we called to you.
Weariness has pooled in my shoulders.
I am a changeling of the glass-and-concrete kingdom.
I cannot speak your language of earth
and moon
and blood.
I have not known you.
Mother, I need you now.

Daughter, open your eyes.
Daughter, clench your fists.
You are fire, you are rage, you are stone.
Daughter, you are adamantine.
Break him over your knee and do not flinch.

Mother, I have swallowed my tongue,
carved crescent moons into my palms.
I have bled with the flow of the tide.
I have filled the ocean with salt water and endured,
I cannot be patient anymore.

He is not worthy of your patience.

Mother, my anger has worn me to the bone.
Mother, grant me steady hands.

If he puts his hands on you, daughter,
rip his throat out with your teeth.

And if I fail?

And if I fail?

Come home still, daughter of the moon.
Spring comes again.
Return with the tide.


This is where we wait,
where quiet
drowns the loudest sounds,
as the song of summer cicadas–
the song we lost
to the silence–
and we pass the time forgetting
and forgotten.

This is where we wait,
where breathing in
each other’s breaths
will keep us standing long enough
to fall.
We fail to estimate the distance
between our hands.
We wait for wind.

Here is where we wait,
where centuries of sand sift down above us,
where the weight of memory and music wears us thin.
This is where we wait,
no other place.
Time and silence bury us.
Love holds us down.

There are locked rooms, she says, and no one gets in and she doesn’t have a lock pick. She says you need a lock pick; what she means is give me the key. There are locked rooms where the sunlight doesn’t go and they’re piled high with books, every one of them, and poems and songs and scripts and pages of pencil drawings until you can’t see the walls or the floor. There are locked rooms in the dark with one ghostlight shining on an empty stage where nobody comes and nobody sings or speaks or dances. Not tonight. Not ever. Not tomorrow and they never will. What she means is give me the key. Give someone the key. There are cobwebs in the corners of locked rooms and there are no books and no dusty stages or lights, just a child on her knees with her face in her hands on the dirty linoleum–and she’s crying stop it stop stop but no one can hear her. Three people who love her can hear but they don’t care. No one gets in. There’s nobody there. Not even a little girl. There’s everything. Open the door and it could be anything. Better. And isn’t it strange how nobody knows? And isn’t it strange how I don’t know? And aren’t those my own long-fingered hands with splinters under bloody fingernails, beating at locked doors? Aren’t those my hands, still and quiet? And whose hands are looking for the key to those rooms now? Who knows where it is? Locked locked lost.

Becoming Icarus

We found her under the pier,
hair spread on the lapping water,
from all the seaweed among lost flip-flops
and empty plastic bottles. Her hands
were open, one bare foot knocked gently
against a wooden post, and her paper wings
undulated under her like tattered sea-creatures,
disintegrating as we watched.
and her water-logged clothes dragged her down,
but still she floated,
and we pulled her out,
her face turned
She wouldn’t take our offered hands
or answer ’til I asked,
“Why wings?”
“To break orbit,” she said.
“Almost. Almost.”
She turned her head to the horizon, then,
like the setting sun,
she sank.


In another world,
I remember the reason,
the long hair in the water,
which face didn’t wear the mask.
I am not disappointed by waking.
In another, sunburn is just sunburn.
I’ve forgotten how her real name looked written-down–
how I couldn’t spell it,
how lips cannot pronounce letters that look like birds in flight.
In a world not like this one,
there are no frightened old maids or insects.
I don’t have to defend myself
for not crying out.
There’s a place where I’m not missing the other half.
The circle’s complete.
Somewhere I don’t know I need
anything more than this.
Another world,
another morning.


this is poetry and I have a choice:
here’s my heart
and it’s either a lion or a scared rabbit
this is a poem (maybe) about my heart and I get metaphors for brave
or one thousand words for “soft” but the truth is
lions aren’t brave
no more than rabbits are you wouldn’t run either
if you were four hundred and twenty pounds of teeth
and claws and muscle
and if you were four pounds of fur and twitchy ears you’d freeze
just like I do see the truth is
my heart is an organ
pumping blood through my body
it’s all just blood and bones and tissue
it all yields
if this is a poem about me then I am not brave
if this is a poem about you then I hope that you are
if this is a poem about anything else under the sun
I am not fit to write it now or ever
not when everything I am made of yields
pick your metaphor or take the literal but it yields
I yield
I give in all right I cannot save myself with words
neither rhyme nor ruin can save us when there is nothing in me
that cannot be broken

When you were ten, you raised you chin and dried your eyes,
nodded when your father touched your shoulder
and called you Lightning Rod.
Both feet on the ground, you clenched your teeth and swallowed the storm.
By twelve, your footsteps turned sand to glass.

By sixteen, rubies and pearls fell from your lips when you spoke.
You held them out in your cupped hands.
People called you a treasury and picked through your words,
looked away from the lines on your palms.

By twenty-two, you’ve stopped talking,
learned to spot the hopes that fall from people’s pockets.
You dig your fingers into the flesh of your inner thigh–
terra incognita.
You are a hostile climate, uninhabitable.
They draw maps and do not return.
You tried to tell them stories of time and changing seasons.
For weeks, they wore the diamonds you choked on.

They wear glass beads and ruby rings.
When lightning strikes a tree or a child,
you tell yourself they shouldn’t have been out in the rain.
You tell yourself they miss you when you go away,
and watch them deck themselves in pearls.
You come with bright things in your open hands,
take nothing and leave no empty space when you are gone.
They miss the jewels, the stones, the simple things.
Never the voice.
Never the hands.


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