He Asks What I Write (Part Two): I Write Spaces

Writing

*

Part One:  I Write Short Stories

I’m writing spaces, these blank places where we become better than our possibilities.

If I told you the truth, if I said all the words, you would end the conversation.  It sounds like a thud, this faux love that we make, this fucking on IKEA beds.

The good parts are in your head. The words ruin what was possible, bog us down, and cement the atrocities.

When the bed creaks, we don’t hear it.  When the pillows sigh, we have stopped listening.  Ribs cage us.  I don’t have the heart to tell you.

You can find my body and his in all the spaces, these places where everything was always greater than its assessed value.  Even in the sorrow, even in the badness, the emptiness is what warms us.

We fell in love with our own rhythms: the beat of our heels; our thighs, the rub.  I found him in the place I wanted him to be, the place where I was a thing worth finding.  He was a magnet, a polar opposite.  I rubbed him like lotion until he disappeared.

He Asks What I Write: I Write Short Stories

Open Letter

*

He asks what I write and I tell him, “short stories.”

But the stories are not short.

Not unless you want them to be.

Not unless I have a heart attack soon and die.

Not unless you just stop reading.

I have only ever had but one story to tell.

The periods are just for breathing.  Your ears, like cholesterol, inside my pounding heart.

You tell me it’s okay to relax, I laugh and say, “comma down.”

 

Fermented


He kisses my neck and recoils.

“Lotion?” he asks and I shake my head.

“No,” I say.  “I’m just sad, but this bitterness is spreading.”

“Spoiled?”

“Like fruit that’s been bitten through by bugs, rotting from the inside out.  Unsalvagable.”

“Alcohol?” he asks, looking for a silver lining.  He reaches across the table for my hand.

“Vinegar,” I correct and get up from the table, remove his fingers from their grasp upon mine, go over to the fridge.  Stand mostly naked in front of its light.  Breasts sagging, hair wilting.

The stamina of yogurt is beyond me.

Wonder how long it takes to make sauerkraut from scratch.  Wonder how long it takes to give up.  Wonder what we’re going to make for dinner.

The kitchen fan doesn’t work right.  I open the window even though we don’t have a screen.  Summer doesn’t seem as fun as it used to when I was lovable and the bills were paid on time.

“Want to order in?”

One more bad decision for the road.

Pesto, West Ho!, This is My Poetry Manifesto

Poetry Manifesto

 

During the darkest days of my degree, when it seemed as if I would never resurface from the depths of my own inadequacy and self-loathing, I was asked to write a poet’s statement.  The goal was to consider why it is that I write poetry, what I am trying to accomplish, where I am failing, where I am faltering, and to find a way out.  This piece is the unedited version of that (full of things that reveal my sadness, my ineptitude, my frustration, my arrogance, my struggle).  Enjoy.  Or don’t.  I can’t make you love me.  It is what it is.  (the poem at the end is meant to be a culmination of all my personal writing tics).

 

Academic poetry is like customer service, usually awful.

–          Anonymous (it was me)

 

My weakness is in my knees

–          Anonymous (still me)

 

Pesto, West Ho!, This is My Poetry Manifesto

My Dad recently told me that some people are brilliant writers because of how they can say a thing and others are writers because of what they have to say—the special way that they see the world and what they have to say about it.  He said that he thought I was the latter.  This is not to say that he didn’t think I was the former too but, on sobbing phone calls with your desperate daughter, a man must not be greedy when grabbing for parachutes.

He may be right.

I hate the idea of the kind of hubris it takes to say that one wants to change the world, but is there really any other reason to write poetry?  I always dreamed that one day I’d end up working in a women’s prison, or a juvenile detention for girls, or maybe even just a high school running some kind of after school writing program.  Through writing, I figured, I would find a way of showing girls that they are enough, by themselves, inherently, just the way they are.  So, it should come as no surprise that, when asked what concerns me as a poet, I want to discuss girl’s who hate their own bodies, society’s attempts to control female sexuality, the persecution of the other woman, the embarrassing idiocy of humans dating, elitism, exclusion, and an inability to talk of things as they are.  (I just want to write without all the bullshit).  Though, it’s not always as grim as it sounds.  I am also concerned with joy: creating it, spreading it, celebrating it.  Nobody ever confessed on their deathbed that they wished they had spent less time laughing.  No grave stone ever read: here lies Joe, who enjoyed being miserable.

Having very little to say for myself is an irony I am uncertain about, uncertain because I’m not sure if it’s terribly sad or hysterically funny.  A writer with nothing to say in their own defense seems to be not a very good writer at all.  Perhaps it is a parlor trick I haven’t yet figured out.

In 1994, I sat in the hallway of an elementary school and wrote a story.  Because when my seventh grade teacher had asked if he was disturbing me, what with his teaching a class and all and I paying very little attention, I had answered truthfully—yes.  I was, after all, writing a story and trying to win a competition.  He was not angry, they never were.  He was certain of my abilities, as they always were too.  He gave me a table, a chair, and a hallway of possibility.  “Come back inside when you’re done,” was all he said.  He was certain I was going to be something.  My entire life, everyone has always been so certain that I would do something important, that I was going to be somebody important, that I was going to do something with my life.  Nobody has ever not believed in me, and I have to wonder if they’ve gotten their hands on some faulty data.  I used to be certain I was going to be a writer.  Now, I wish I had tried to become an engineer.  Lately, I’ve started to wonder if my writing is like a magic trick, if my writing is just misdirection.  Look, look over here and ignore what’s behind that curtain ma’am.  I’m starting to think that maybe my writing has never really been anything other than worthless, and that I’ve somehow conned people into liking my work simply because they like me.  Though what kind of asshole thinks they are so likable as to hold such power?  It seems entirely impossible that something could be true for so many years.  And yet, I’m genuinely starting to believe that my writing might just be a long con.

I am haunted by questions of quality.  I almost want to be convinced that how I view poetry is wrong, because at least then I could finally get some sleep.  I wish someone could convince me that trying to hide, and darken, and keep secret, all the things worth knowing, in the pursuit of stimulating something abstract, value being irrelevant, is a valiant pursuit.  I don’t understand the trend to obfuscate, to obliterate.  Meaning has never been so afraid.  Poems that try to numb, poems that pare it down to the bare minimum, the absolute least amount acceptable, poems that refuse to speak because in the silence I’m supposed to come up with it all on my own, poems that hold me hostage at gunpoint.  Poems that are a thin blank it.  But, we shall come back to this.

Why do you write?  The answer is entirely too cliché and yet, very true.  I write because I have to, because no other shoe fits right (though lately it feels like wearing socks on broken glass sidewalks).  Some days it is as simple as—because I liked the way it sounded.  I wrote it because I had a thought and it seemed like magic.  I put it in a drawer, after, because what kind of egotism is it to find your own thoughts so wonderful.  Nonetheless, that’s why I wrote it.  Some days I write because I had to say a thing, because I couldn’t let the words go unsaid, because somebody had to stand up and say something.  What kind of jerk thinks they can change the world?  But maybe poetry is just that selfish and naive.  I write because I’m trying to find my place in this world.  I write because one day I will die and I want to leave behind something that says I was hereI was here; I said some things; someone will remember that I existed because of the words I wrote down; someone will remember me because of ‘something she said’.

I write for the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker.  I write for the waitresses, the stay-at home moms, the girls who throw up their lunches, the women who want more.  I write for the men who do things without thinking, the men who say “I was joking” when what they mean is “I’m not very funny”, I write to find my way out of this bitterness.  I write for anyone who will listen.  I write for someone who thinks what I have to say has value, who thinks I offer a wisdom outside of their own.  I write for the person who gets my jokes.

While many don’t appreciate it, or perhaps find my poems all that funny, one of the clearest evolutions I’ve made as a writer has been incorporating humor into my writing.  Incorporating jokes and dialogue into my poetry is a relatively new advancement.  I have also started trying to write with constraints (both on form and content), something that may be seen as progress.  I guess you could say it’s a willingness to step outside my box.  I value it because it makes me uncomfortable and from discomfort great things may come.  It often bothers me though because it always feels so gimmicky.  It often feels like splattering words on a page.  It often feels entirely meaningless.

If I wrote a poem that made no sense, that offered no perspective, no wisdom of experience, no point, but it made the reader think something amazing: did I do that?

A man builds a piano.  A man builds many pianos.  Many men build many pianos.  They all play music.  One day, Beethoven strikes a key.  The rest is history.  No one ever asks the piano builder about his artistry.

He is not a magician, he is a coincidence.  An accidental breach of meaning, the day someone drew a treasure map through his mine field of nothingness.  And why would I call him poet?  The cartographer is the artist, she is the word wizard.  He is a cross word puzzle, she is the high score.  Be contrary.  Be different.  Be exactly everything the world expects of poets, but act like it is news to you.  Be Oppositional Defiance Disordered syntax.  Strain to buy the con of academic poetry.  What are we even doing here?  Do you think they laugh about us at the grocery store?  Down at the coal mine? In the coffee shop across from the police station?  Waiting in line at the airport?  I do.  I think they laugh about our oblivious elitism, how entirely worthy it’ll be one day when we starve to death because we wanted to write a poem about principals and obfuscation.  Is there a janitor who might clean up this mess?

I am desperately envious of writers who are certain that they are writers.  To have the certainty that what you have is worth sharing, is perhaps the greatest gift a person could ever have.

I am terrified that what I’ve learned in grad school is right.  I am stop calling your parents because they’ll hear it in your voice, silent and breathless full body sobs on green and peach Berber, kind of frightened.  I am no longer tethered to a certainty.  I have lost my anchor in this race.  When I first started grad school, I remember talking to many of the creative stream students about their work.  The majority of them had told me that they never share their work.

“Never been published?”

“Not even online?”

“But you’ve at least read your work, out loud, no?”

“No.”

At the time I couldn’t understand such a thing.  What was the point in writing if you weren’t going to share your work?  I now understand entirely.  People keep asking me to read at poetry nights and I keep saying no (that’s not the shocking part).  What shocks me is when they’re surprised by my answer of “no, thanks”.  Why on earth would I want to continue sharing my work?  Last term I took a fiction course and received an A.  So did everyone else in the class.  The A is worthless, entirely meaningless, a waste of tuition dollars and time spent and tears shed.  I have recently been given two interim grades, one in poetry and one in a fiction workshop, both B+.  If I had been getting B+’s in my academic courses, I would’ve dropped out by now.  This isn’t to say I don’t deserve those B+’s.  Most days I am still plagued by these markers of my quality.  There are a few days when I remember that if my A is entirely worthless, then so too are my B+’s.  Though, if everything is worthless, what are we even doing here?  Back on track though, my incredulity is then with the shock that follows.  If you tell someone their work is shit, you cannot then be surprised when they don’t want to rip their chest open and show you their heart.  You can’t be surprised.  The surprise is what gets me.  The surprise is constant.  The surprise is what is surprising.

 

 

 

I wrote a love poem for my butcher, asked him to meat me halfway

I said I had the chops if he did, to grind this thing out

We bantered across the glass case, I wasn’t sure could hold my weight

He told me about his childhood, standing beside a jar of giant pickles

I was worried my heart was already too full but he assured me

That he would take whatever room I had, would shave himself to fit

He said, “no matter how you cut me, our love is prime”

Eyes flickered with candles and surrounded by bowls of olives

I smiled and said “Sir, my loins do ache for you”

And he laughed, because it was funny.

I Want to Date You Like Rainbows

I want to date you like rainbows

 

[dropcap]Y[/dropcap]  ou look…Like a friend I once knew.  Like a reason to pause the movie.  Like a reason to eat all my vegetables so that I can live forever just to know you a little bit longer.  You look like a woman I’d like to get to know.  Like a ship lost at sea.  Like a port in the storm, but not just any port, a safe haven, a harbor.  Like a dream I had once, in the summer, on a sunny day, when I fell asleep watching the clouds while the bees sung me to sleep and it felt like you were beside me, even though I didn’t yet know you.  You look like a reason I would get out of bed, even if it was early, on Saturday mornings, just to make you coffee.  Like a heart I’d make a cocoon around with the warmest quilt on a Sunday in the winter.  You look like someone I want to kiss forever or at least until my heart stops chugging like a steam engine or a college freshman.  I want to know what the voices in your head are saying about me.  I want to text you back immediately and make plans well in advance so that you can plan your schedule.

I want to date you like rainbows.  I want to explain magic tricks to you.  I want you to practice your spoken word in front of me.  I want to make your nerves into cotton candy so that with every breath they shrink and shrink and shrink and then I swallow them whole.  I want to lick the summer rain off your skin because I am a desert by your side.  I want to rush things with you just so that you’ll tell me that slow and steady wins the race.  I want you to draw a picture of a turtle to remind me.  I want to stock your fridge.  I want you to have everything within arms reach, except me, I only need a hand.  I want to hold your hand until you don’t want to squirm away anymore.  I want to call you and say it’s me and have you know that it’s me.  I want you to leave long drawn out messages on my voicemail.  I want you to call more times than you think you should.  I want you to call and text and check in more than you need to, just to make sure I’m still interested because I know you have to, and I will still be, interested, every time you call.  I’ll still be right here, playing your messages over and over again while I fall asleep.  I want to hear your voice.  You can never call too much.  I want you to embarass yourself in front of me just so I can tell you that it doesn’t matter.  I am yours.

I want to love you like you love swimming.  I want to feed you lucky charms in the afternoon when all your work is done.  I want to write love poems on your back in suntan lotion but not tell you so that my love becomes a part of you and everyone will know that you’re mine and that you’re loved more than regular words can convey.  I want to play super mario and give you all the gold coins I collect.  I want to call you yoshi and watch you stick out your tongue and laugh and then I want to shove cake in there and kiss you till we’re both covered in icing.  I want to lie in bed with you, sweaty and in love, satisfied and on fire, and then I’ll turn to you and say let’s do weird stuff and listen to your laughter for hours.  I want to wear our inside jokes like pajamas.  I want to sleep with your sense of humor.

I want to order the ‘date-night’ special with you.  I want a lifetime of splitting appetizers, even if we have to order the poutine with the gravy on the side because I don’t eat red meat.  I would take all my dressings on the side for you.  I want to give you a bite of everything even though you tell me not to because it’s making you fat.  I want to make you fat just so we can go to the gym and I can watch you sweat and work it all off.  I want to be your champion and I’m going to make you do three more reps come on come on come on you got it just so I can kiss your juicy lips right after.  I want to get you gatorade when I’ve pushed too hard.  I promise to rub your muscles when we get home.

I want to jump over a broom with you.  I want to call you my own, my team, my better half, my other half, my one and a half.  I want to half you forever.  See what I did there?  I know you like those kinds of puns.  See?  Do you see?  Because I see you, like really see you.  I want to go to parties and re-enact funny youtube videos we’ve watched together.  I want to have witty repartee with you.  I want to have a gravitational pull with you, our smiles, our jokes, our love, pulling people in.  I want to watch who you become.  I want a promise, written in cake and tradition.

I want to have milk chocolate babies with you.  You fell in love the day I said you would make an amazing mom.  I’ve fallen in love every day since.  I will protect you.  I will protect our babies.  It will be okay.  I can see the future and it’s going to all work out, but not because I can see it.  Because you are good and I am good and we will do good things.  We will make this world a place where good things matter.  You always said you wanted to change the world, you wanted a man who wanted to change the world.  And now I’m doing that.  In a small way.  In a minuscule way, when you think about how big the world is.  But I’m trying.  I’m doing things.  For our kids that don’t exist yet.  I’m loving the fuck out of this world so that you can let a sigh out and relax every once and awhile…it’s not all on your shoulders.

You’re still the woman I see myself ending up with, and having babies that smile bigger than the sun with.

 

Or at least that’s what I hear.  When he says the words I love you.

I Saw You.

I saw you

[dropcap]I saw you.  A question.  A promise.  A few words in a newspaper.[/dropcap]

 

I saw you.  When I peeked in your bedroom window.  Lurking behind you on the street.  When you sat next to me at the coffee shop.

You smelled like.  Unisex cologne.  Axe body spray.  Saturdays and sunshine.

You leaned over and asked.  Got any spare change?  Ever had sex with a Kennedy?  Anyone sitting here?

 I pretended I didn’t speak English.  I was casual, I was calm, I was a female James Dean and pushed out the chair with my foot gesturing for you to have a seat.  I choked on my coffee and sputtered all yours.

You smiled.  I smiled.  You smiled.  That really happened.

You put your of books down on the table and asked if I would keep an eye on them while you held up a bank.  Called your mom.  Got yourself a coffee and did I need anything?

 I blinked.  Twice.  Like a hospital patient.  Like a four year old.  Like the cat had my tongue.

While you were gone I glanced at your books.  And wrote my name in the table of contents, and then drew a heart around it.  To check if you were overdue.  Because I wanted to see what you were into.

Apparently you’re really into Astrophysics.  Botany.  Eighteenth Century Whore Biographies.  Didn’t really matter, it was just nice to know you’re into something.  I like a man with passion.

On your way back to the table, coffee and two cookies in hand, you caught me checking out your books and said we’re not all born Hemmingways.  Adorable shrug

That’s what your books were about.  Writing.  How to write poetry for the senseless.  How to write a mystery without a crime.  How to woo writers (in ten steps or less).

And I swooned to your waves, knocking my boat about at sea.  And I drowned in the sheer bliss of it all.  And I mumbled mmhmm like you had just said, nice day, ain’t it.

I brought you a cookie you said, handing it over to me.  I said Trick or treat?  I said I’m on a diet.  I said thank you, that’s so sweet and I’m pretty sure some sweat trickled down my back.

I thought that was going to be it.  You would read and I would write.  You would write and I would read.  We would be writers in proximity.  To greatness.  To each other.  To a couple of coffee shop cookies.

Only, then you looked at me.  Sighed hard like you’d just heard about how a man once walked on the moon. Shook your head a bit, smiled and said You look like heaven, if I wasn’t an atheist.  You look like trouble on a quiet night, in the summer, when our legs are itching for an adventure.  Sigh.  Jesus, you’re beautiful.

 And then a car crashed through the window.  And then someone pulled the fire alarm.  And then I had to go meet a friend.

I got up to leave, thanked you again for the cookie, and held my breath.  You asked for my phone number.  You said you couldn’t live another moment without me in your life.  You said have a nice day.

And that was that, the moment passed.  And it makes you wonder about all those passing moments.  The very few that happen in a day.  The astronomical amount that happen in a lifetime.  The opportunities you miss because you were shy, I was awkward and time wasn’t interested in slowing down for us.

I saw you.  In a dream.  In the corner of my eye.  When you sat next to me at the coffee shop.

Fuck Me Till I’m Thesaurus.

Eating cotton candy

 

[dropcap]He tastes[/dropcap] like a conversation. Candy coated cadence and tempting temporary tempo swirl somewhere in between our tongues touching like torches. Ablaze. That bend and blend like lexicons likened to a river and its trial by tributaries. He stands trial before me. He stands there. Not here but there. Where. In a moment long before I forget him. A mouth full of what I have to offer and vocabularies rubbing up against my memories mammaries momentary majesty he dips and bows in front me. My eyes roll back and I wonder how I’ve managed to last this long without his Dictionary inside me.

Roll my hand across the spine. Fiddle fingers across ink and paper and the words someone somewhere wrote for a somebody something like me. Me. Standing. Here. Try to flip to the last page, find out what happens before we’ve even begun till a hand something like his stops mine. Bookmark this moment he says. Take this hand. Take his hand. Trust in these fingers that paint passion onto me. Hush. Paint and stroke me to the core and then brush color across my lip. Kisses hard and fast. Wet and warm. Tastes something like cinnamon. Synonym. Ache like antonyms stretching to be more than the promise of an opposite stance. Legs spread wide to encapsulate a hope for something bigger. Something bare. Bear with me he says.

Pause. Paws. Silence. Take a breath. There is a break. Here. This spot. This tic. This toc. The very moment. And we break apart. Look each other in the eyes. Long like Johns. Buzzing like summer nights when there’s trouble between the fireflies. Slow like trepidation and school zones, the rate at which I fall in love. He is. Empathetic. Pause. Silence. A moment. And when it’s ready. When we’ve stewed. In the wanton wanting. I hold what’s akin to arms wrapped in armour. Out to him. stripped bare. Next to naked. Stand patient and waiting. Bear with me he says.

And I am his bear. He is my bear. Fish for fun to feed him. Grow strong on gulps of giggles and the laughter is the love that sustains us. Our love is a cyclone. Cylindrical. Circular. Cyclical. Our love is an Encyclopaedia. Write entries for days solely on the way he touches me long past late and well before the early hours. Spreads apart the folds of my blankets. Flaps sheets to fluster the flutter of eyelids just awake enough to open up my wallet. Finds my library card with ease and borrows more books than his arms can hold. Book after book he reads the stories onto my skin pours them into my mouth just to smell a hint of happiness on my breath. Fresh and sweet. Fun and simple. Find and set free. He is my hero. My soldier. My Professor. Professing hot panting playfully provoking a pinnacle. Partners. Patterns. Palpable. Our love is palpable. Our love is passion. Our love is the sex he spreads across my toast. Jam type love. Breakfast nook type love. Who wants to lick the spoon type love.

And he is my reference text. Indexing the moments I can’t decide. He is my anchor. Sailor’s hands. Rough and sea worthy of my every inch. I slip the cacophony of his nation deep inside my voice. Sounding vowels to find guidance. Breaking rules to form poetry. I leave verbs like fingerprints across his fur marking my territory like over entitled opulence and empiric entanglements. Sticky ridges of pronouncements and I’m turning his similes into smiles. He parades parables down my throat. Panting. Panting. Panting. Hold close in sweat and pheromones. Fall prey to moments I can’t control, for him. Let him hold me for a second something like vulnerable.

Want to be his diatribe, want to write his soliloquy. Hold words like babies until they stop crying. A life of possibility. Hold his breath for a moment while he pictures it. 3am feedings from fountains of feelings. Roadmaps of resentments and regulations to relegate our senses of selves in singularity. Syllable. Sellable. Seeable. See me able. To breathe. Just this once. Bearable. Bear with me he says. Take this moment and bear it. Exposed like the letter y in a sometimes-y kind of way. And that’s when it happens. Reads my words aloud like rivers flowing out his mouth, over his teeth. Wrapped in the taste buds of his tongue, my words like sugar and lemons on Saturdays when the housework isn’t going to get done and nobody but the fireflies and the porch swing care.

Euphony he says. What? I giggle wrapped in arms hulky with Hercules. You funny he says and kisses my cheek we were always here you know. Long before the first taste. And we fall asleep. Exhausted from our education emboldened by bodies that bathed in the broken beauty of each other. Fed one another till being starved was a memory so long forgotten it fell away from context. I kiss him once more. And fall asleep with the blaze of conversation on my tongue.

I Eat Grapefruits To Save You

Shopping List
I eat grapefruits to save you, late at night
Rabid, in the moment your words, hard and fast
Become a language, I no longer understand
Push it hard into me, force a peeling of my dream
That vision squeezed tight, in hands too rough to hold
My heart, a madlib, and you write anything, something
Anything, Just so you won’t miss this space, fill me up
With minutes, minute moments, the flutter of a lash
When I laughed and you didn’t.  I eat, eat, eat
Grapefruits, in the middle of the night, to save you
Pour my pain into pulp, rip you into sections,
Time you out into pieces, digestible moments
Bearable seconds, of all the days I hate you.
All the years, that I’ve hated you, so much
That I eat grapefruits, in the middle of the night,
Just to save you.
I plot plans, hatch seeds, grope and peel apart
My own skin, because I found it here, found me
Here, because I let it get to here.
Sitting on the kitchen floor, juice runs away
From your chatter, putting me to sleep, by the way,
You just don’t get my jokes.
I stuff citrus down my throat so I won’t say the things,
That make me hate you, offer up the reasons why I despise,
You.
Eating grapefruits late at night like an arangautang
In the middle of the kitchen, the middle of the this life
The middle of however the fuck we got here.
I choke on a seed for a second like heaven,
Only I’m an atheist and this is bullshit.  I don’t even like
Grapefruit.  They’re bitter, the skin is too thick and
Peeling them makes my hands feel funny.
Last Thursday you came downstairs to look for me,
But instead of a shirt made see-through by sloppy juice
I ate the words I love you.  Swallowed hard and crawled
Across the paper.
Pick Up:  Milk, eggs, Grapefruit