20. everyone says i always linger in the interim

when i was four,

a blind man asked me

what my favorite color was.

“gray,” i said

because i thought it was

the only one he knew.

since then i knew rainbows 

were just savage smiles.

i still haven’t found out if

blindness means seeing

in black and/or white

but sometimes it seems right

to want to gouge my eyes

out.

thirteen years later,

my favorite color is still gray.

19. dwarf hurricane

and my little boy asked me,

“are there more chickens in the world than people?”

i did not know how to answer so i shrugged. little johnny sighed.

the next day, he said, “are there more herbivores than carnivores

in the food chain?” i knew what to say then

but we were in church and it wouldn’t be right

to his 6-year-old eyes.

we devour each other so, so easily. humans

excluded from the food chain, there needs to be more sheep

than wolves, because all the universe asks of us is variation.

humans included then, no matter what scientists say, carnivores

have globes at the tips of their claws,

spinning in front of every prey they shed tears for.

we were in church and it wouldn’t make sense to him.

little johnny’s head was found at the base of the streetlamp

Monday morning. his bones were melted —

marshmallows in hot chocolate. canines or bombs, i wasn’t sure 

which hurt less, so i gritted my teeth and hurled the aquarium

to the television. the fish dance wretchedly on the carpet.

a laugh escapes me.

saturday night, my little boy asked,

“why are there more thunderstorms during the summer?”

i did not know how to answer so i shrugged.

i wish i told him it doesn’t matter because summer is just a silly thought

we created to scare the wolves away.

(now the sandcastles we built in cape cod last summer

are just silly pictures, too.)

18. cough syrup

I’m  thinking about you. What else can I say?
The palm trees on  the reverse
are a  delusion;  so is the pink sand.
What  we  have are the usual
fractured coke bottles and  the  smell
of backed-up drains, too  sweet   ,
like a mango on the  verge
of rot, which we have also.
The air clear sweat, mosquitoes
 their tracks; birds & elusive.

Time comes in waves here,  a sickness  , one
day after the other rolling on;
I  move up, it’s  called
awake, then down into the uneasy
nights but  never
forward. The roosters crow
for hours before dawn, and a prodded
child  howls & howls
on the pocked road  to  school.
In the hold with  the  baggage
there are two  prisoners,
their heads shaved by bayonets, & ten crates
of  queasy chicks. Each  spring
there’s race of cripples, from the store
to the church . This is  the sort of junk
I carry with me; and   clipping
about democracy from the local  paper.

Outside the  window,
they’re building  the  damn hotel,
nail by nail, someone’s
crumbling  dream. A universe that includes  you
can’t  be all bad, but
does it? At this distance
you’re a mirage, a glossy image
fixed  in  the posture
of the last  time  I saw you.
Turn  you  over, there’s the place
for the address.  Wish you were
here. Love comes
in waves  like  the ocean,  a sickness  which goes on
& on , a  hollow  cave
in the head, filling  & pounding, a kicked ear.


From Postcards by Margaret Atwood.

17: Searchlights (The Ballad of Holly)

You looked like bad news; I got to have you

by the shabby old farm last night.

You looked like bad news; the place we went to

charred itself down with candlelight.

Your eyes were pretty blue snowballs of fright.

Your eyes were pretty blue snowballs of fright,

mine held glints of Bundy’s statue.

Your eyes were pretty, though naive not quite,

By the farm, I got to have you —

such cold, cold lips after we claimed taboo.

Such cold, cold lips when I fin’lly kissed you.

“Such cold, cold hearts,” you screamed that night,

there are dark little things we can’t undo.

Dark things that set our veins alight

still taste so good after your death’s fortnight.

The taste lingers after your death’s fortnight,

oh, I’m sorry I can’t keep you.

Oh Holly, you loved me without a fight,

Oh Holly, sorry I shot you.

“Such cold, cold hearts,” so tenderly we cooed.

Oh Holly, you loved me without a fight,

Oh Holly, I’m so, so sorry.

All pretty blue eyes remind me of you.

You looked like bad news; the place we went to

charred itself down with candlelight.

You looked like bad news; I got to have you.

15: i desperately hope you don’t inhabit this anymore.

Loneliness brought us to an empty theatre.

tightrope walkers tickle the ceiling; we wonder. we wonder at what would’ve been, if there wasn’t such a fine line between a quicksand and gravity. our faces contort in the dim lights. we are outside looking in again.

exit signs begin to taste like green-eyed monsters and our throats are hungry from the chills He shoves down our back. the stage is pitch black. our blank notebooks deafen me. what happened to mocking whispers and ice-laden lips?

we wonder if He brought us here to show us the macabre. the way bones build the very seat we lock our legs in. the spiny torsos of strangers with stranger eyes. when the scarecrow dances, He means to grin at us.

but this is what He didn’t write in the playbill: nothing is more terrifying than what you want Him to say when our fingers unconsciously brush His cheek.

the heavy doors slam shut but the poster remains pinned. a midsummer night’s dream, bleeds the title, and we can’t decide if puck will ever make you laugh as much as Loneliness can when He does something to drive us off the edge of the cardboard lighthouse.

the stairs are dead but His stares prolong the interim. we have always lingered in between. (you remain unseen; my rationality keeps us both alive.)

we sugarcoat solidarity in the absence of matches; we become even easier to please. Loneliness brings us to an empty theater, but the moment He guides us to the orchestra with His hand on our back, the curtain catches fire. the ashes burn so, so coldly again.

isn’t this precisely what you wanted?

14: flesh

(come with me.)

we shall rest our bones on the earth,

dampen our cheeks with its tears

and swallow lightning.

(come with me.)

we shall place our bones over coal,

subdue these volcanoes we call mouths

and smoke the sea.

(come with me.)

we will smile upon the trees with

our backs pressed against them

and dance to the songs of the forest fire.

come with me

and we will rest our bones on the earth.

we will be human.

13: Song of the Crippled Aorta

Two black willowy hearts revel in space,

cleave tricks and cracks among constellations;

They carve a tragic love song from your face.

Corsets in bedrooms you tried to unlace,

Owls that tempt us with vows and odd reasons,

two black willowy hearts revel in space.

They pour salt and questions on our bookcase,

devouring lies, sanctifying poison.

We carve a tragic love song from your face.

Mercurial moons fester in your embrace;

we kiss to try and damn a thousand suns.

Two black willowy hearts revel in space.

I dreamed that dreams were easy to erase

but ours decay like an angel legion.

They carve a tragic love song from your face.

We set fire to the ghosts of cursed oceans

and bring back life to these crooked lesions.

Two black willowy hearts revel in space;

they carve a tragic love song from your face.

12.2

It’s 02:22 A.M

and I’m still talking to you.

My childhood crush,

you got my knees trembling.

12: to twelve different people (in the middle of the night)

welcome back, my childhood crush.

 

don’t you miss the playground?

i would’ve stayed.

the cat ears are still in my cabinet.

so is the first can of rootbeer. i may have washed it.

thank you.

it was november, that much i remember

when we started a bonfire without them looking over us.

(oh dear, the marshmallows.)

i hope you haven’t forgotten the hike because i haven’t forgotten

the spiders we tried to find, either.

let’s just pretend i never saw you in that moment.

of all the conversations regarding lap dances,

brands of highlighters, owl species and broken oven toasters,

what i paid the most attention to is that cheeky grin.

sometimes i still rewind those cassette tapes.

my father warns me to be careful with the player

because it’s ancient and fragile now.

but aren’t we all?

sometimes i wish one of the tapes would just break

just so i’d finally learn my lesson.

i never quite remember if you prefer chamomile or mint or earl grey.

i guess it doesn’t matter as much as it did.

do you know? people always tell me i have a brick wall now.

they don’t know how right they are.

you do.

i’m sorry i’m not any better than i was.

i’m sorry i don’t know if i’ll ever be better.

i’m sorry i tried to make you beautiful.

i still haven’t tried playing in the rain.

11: fleeting

because when strangers come and go

we do not have to boil our throats

and say farewell

the bathroom on the corner of

the ancient library misses you so

and chapters say not much else

but your name

(we never sat together in an airplane)

kundera explains the unbearability

of everything

and we just scratch our cheeks

once our eyes threaten to drip

when strangers come and go

there is an unbearability

in remembering because you left

and the whiteness of this paper

mirrors your wrist

i want to miss you because

you left;

you left because —