Category Archives: poetry

Relational Definition

The idea of relational definitions has comforted me for years, ever since I came across it in my literary structures class in college.

There’s something beautiful in being able to define something by everything it isn’t – dark would be less meaningful without light. Comparison as a tool for understanding, for communicating, for building! That is when language is most open to me. It allows me to restructure the world, organizing it in my head by the comparable textures of each moment.

I’ve never appreciated that as much as I do now.

I can only explain how happy I am by comparing myself to the girl I used to be. Then and only then do I see my development, the remarkable little miracles that led me exactly where I am and who I love. It’s so odd to me, the thought that I used to be insurmountably lonely – that I thought there was an incurable darkness inside me that made me unworthy of care and affection.

After I met my boyfriend, I wrote a few pieces about him (and about me, about the type of woman I saw myself becoming with him). I gave him two of those poems for his birthday yesterday. The third poem is a little more selfish. When we started talking, I was terrified of the idea that he could make me happy. I was scared I couldn’t sustain happiness, that my hands would break every beautiful thing that passed between them. Here’s that piece.

Disordered

What if my heart is like
my stomach?

don’t laugh

what if both shrink when I
starve for affection? What if the walls
have caved in, what if acid has swallowed the floor
and settled in every chamber, what if
the valves roar in protest when I pass
couples on the street,
what if I can’t remember the last time
I was full?

It took three months
to train my body to receive anything stronger
than eye contact – to relearn how it feels
to taste something so vulnerable and soft
without vomiting.

 

So I wrote the above about being afraid and ill-equipped and only now, with comparison and reflection, can I understand just how lucky I am to have Joey.

Happy birthday, bee. ❤

joey and mee

 

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Let the Monsters Die

I think we’re allowed to let the monsters die
and yeah, I know, it stung when you pried your limbs
from between its teeth – there are
bruises on your joints that still ache years later

might never stop
and you’ll carry that pain
wearing it like a name tag,
like a reason.

remember
you climbed out of the beast on your own
it might remember your taste but it can’t
bite down and
feel your skin against its tongue anymore

it is too old to chase after you
its teeth are rotting, sliding between chapped
lips onto the ground – unruly headstones – still peppered with
memories of you,

and you lived.

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The Woods

the hands are mine – small and pale,
hungry. it is as if a seed has dropped into my
palms, stretching inward

seeking nutrients from a body I have never
understood. it is as if someone
has planted the last tree here,
inside me
and it’s urgent and important and
sometimes my anxiety peels back the
bark protecting my chest until
I can’t breathe
teetering against roots without
an anchor, always a jump away
from felling the forest —

then
he smiles at me

and I can feel the leaves press against my skin
from the inside, I open my mouth
and taste fresh air;
hand over hand, I climb out of myself.
I find the sun.

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Caricature

sometimes I dream of my baby teeth –
of rearranging the tiny white mounds into messages
outside his bedroom door

I can almost feel their smoothness against
my palm. it hurts but I
write on, spelling out secrets on the carpet
wiping the blood from my chin

the door, closed,
the lock pressed inward – he is afraid
of the bone. he doesn’t know
what it means

the man leaves me in silence

with my tongue,
probing the sore and weeping craters of
my jaw

with my tongue
held and tied and angry.

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Something Old

Here is where I was, two and three years ago. Simple pieces. Nothing too heavy or incriminating. But poetry always marks who I’ve been and where I’m going.

 

Bus #32 off Orchard

To the bulimic on the 9 AM bus –
I’m sorry heaven’s light burns the skin
around your chapped lips, I remember
how badly the sun can sting on mornings
like this
you slide into the hard plastic seat
as if slipping beneath a pinewood lid
your body sighs, collapsing inward,
and I wonder
how long you would be permitted
to sleep.

——————————————————-

we spill into the street
like milk flooding linoleum
and we know there’s no use crying

the sun has yet to claim its throne
seducing the last whispers of dawn
a frigid wind slips underneath our scarves
stroking the smooth napes of our necks

screaming metal materializes
girls clutching coffee struggle
to remember their own names
we file inside and no one says it
but we always crave the proximity.

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They Could’ve Been Dancing

I truly believe you’re either born a poet or forged into one – but I can’t decide where that leaves me.

I’ve been a poet longer than almost anything else – my love for poetry just barely predates my trauma and the subsequent illnesses it wrought. Poetry was my coping mechanism long before I understood what I had survived. Words just make sense in a way that numbers and figures never quite managed.

April is National Poetry Month, intended to expose the nation to the beauty and calamity of words. Poetry is where I began. My first poem was published in Highlights magazine before I was old enough to type. It was about the wind. There was an owl. That’s all I remember. But I dictated the poem to my mother and I was so proud when she printed it out. Proud, but nervous. Once it was sent to the magazine, it wasn’t my poem anymore. But we have the print in my closet, locked away under other little memories deemed soft enough to treasure.

And so I was a poet.

I won an award at Tattered Covers. It was expected that the winners would read their work aloud but I couldn’t, not in the slightest, so I trembled behind my mother instead. She read about the wind and I shook, face red, my words so separate from myself that I could barely stand to hear them. Then the crowd applauded! And suddenly the fear and dread melted into something different, something I have struggled to define in the years since.

It was like being heard for the first time.

I hope I smiled then, but it’d be true to form if I had cried instead.

 

 

They Could’ve Been Dancing

we’re packed into a storage house
past its prime, plastered with graffiti and
band stickers and my friend’s glitter
bombs from five shows ago that never
washed away

I don’t know any of the songs but
that boy has my heart in one hand
and my hand in the other and
I’m shouting beneath my skin, eyes open,
watching the men grab each other
and sway

it’s beautiful
tangentially speaking
as if music, like weeds, grew
around a structure and said

“yes, here,
this will be enough.”

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Wisdom teeth

Learned today that most young girls
wake up crying after sedation
Doc pulls the needle out and before
their eyes open,
they’ve flooded

hot tears, a riverbank bursting,
nothing sweet about it – just sad
on sad on sad
the gauze lining their beaten gum tissue
fades to red as they shake

Doc is gentle, Doc is good
but I know this will not be the last time
a man carves bloody craters there
I know these girls will be
floodland women, jaws aching
as they struggle to pry
calloused hands from their bruised tongues.

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Gatsby Seeks Daisy

It is too cold to sleep. My toes shrivel inward beneath my comforter. I have been awake for hours. Every movement stings , as if the fibers of my muscles have frozen over. They catch on to one another, splintering in the lining of my skin.

I’ve often written about desperation and honesty, the lines of which blur in my brain. Is it honest to confess my confusion and hurt or does my need for concrete information render that act desperate?  I stuff my fists in my mouth to choke the words I’ve stored behind my tongue for you. Syllables slip through my fingers, landing softly on my keyboard like the first snowfall of the season: it is cold, and I miss you.

So instead of being desperate or honest, I’m going to give you some old lines of mine. My heart is too heavy to create something new.


the devil is hard of hearing – his lips
curl inward around our names,
like fruit flies encircling old apples

he writes letters to my father but misspells the street name. a few blocks over
he lingers, signing rapidly, his hands
too loud for the intersection

anyway
I don’t know how to tell him
it’s not the leaving that I love – it’s the victory
march, absolution in the form of ticker
tape coating the streets like a comforter

but the devil just bares his palms
with a shake
fingers wide as he trails behind me
the whole way home.


 

We are a gradual dissolution into blue – deep blue, like the depths of the universe, unfolding in a matter of syllables: everything ends.

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Chronic

My body is shutting down.

Fibromyalgia morphs stress into pain – the more stressed I get, the more pain I feel. It always starts in my feet. I can feel the muscles churning and twisting underneath thin skin. I press my thumbs into my heel to stave off yelling.

This pain carries upward, like an exponential chart made physical, made unreadable, made unreliable. Pain moves upward. It is currently as high as my hips and spine. Imagine someone unbolting the connector for your hips – all night. The echoes of their monkey wrench colliding with bone again and again and again wakes me up at all hours. My spine radiates pain at the base. I can feel the exact vertebrae that has betrayed me.

When you find a doctor who believes in fibromyalgia, they ask you to recount every trauma in your life. Using this method, they can give you a general idea of when you maxed out your Flight or Fight response. I was eight and I have long since discovered that there is a third option.

Flight, fight, or freeze. Everyone forgets the freeze.

You know what blows about having a chronic illness like fibro? No one can see your diagnosis. Your own family tell you it’s no big deal. Friends will tell you their aunt’s father’s best friend had it and he still ran twelve miles every day. People will tell you that your illness is your fault, that you’re not doing enough, that you could force yourself to get better “if you would just…”

And you know what? They’re going to tell you the same thing.

People will tell you that you should not feel sad. People will misdiagnose your pain as a tantrum and their privilege will allow them to see nothing else. They will tell you to get over it, they will tell you there’s nothing to be down, they will tell you that there’s no reason to be upset.

Many of us are hurting right now. We are stuck in the freeze, our wounds open, our throats raw. I’m going to invite you to take your time and heal. However long you need. It is valid to feel devastated, terrified, angry. You’re allowed to feel whatever is filling your chest cavity. When you’re ready, we have some work to do.

I love you. I’m proud of you. We’ll figure this out together.


 

 

TO THOSE WHO HOLD CONGRESS WITH PEOPLE WHO MAKE YOU FEEL DIFFICULT TO LOVE

Wolves have 42 teeth and even the ones
that melt your heart are strong enough
to pierce it and there’s no such thing
as mercy on the forest floor

Look beyond the gaping maw,
remove the bandages from your palms
and remember that it has always
known your taste

This time, run
this time shove the blood-moistened snout
from between your ribs and howl back
scream into the night that bore the beast

This time
take no prisoners.


 

an old poem that felt fitting after this week. Please, please be good to each other – love loudly. Heal however you need, do no harm, and lean on the people you trust.

and if you need people, you’ve got me.

-K

 

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