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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The Girl through the Wires

She found me in the strangest way.

I didn’t have many friends left by the end of that summer. I had been looking forward to the sun but even blue skies couldn’t pull me out of myself. Instead I stayed in my childhood bedroom, still processing bruises that had long since healed. I can’t remember exactly when Sydney appeared in my life – I only posting on my blog and saying I was unequivocably done with friendship. I was tired of being hurt, after all. Then this beautiful, vibrant Minnesotan crawled through the internet and offered me her hand.

“You can’t give up on friendship! I’ll be your friend.”

We’ve talked about our origin at length in the four years since. It wasn’t like her to write to people, she says, and it wasn’t in my nature to respond so readily. Somehow, we just knew to speak.

Sydney kept my heart open and hopeful, despite my best efforts to shut the world out. We messaged on Tumblr back and forth, back and forth, discussing everything from Harry Potter to human rights to teen suicide to our favorite bands. I’m still unsure how we fell together so beautifully. That fall, I met Sydney’s celebrity crush. I hugged Ed Sheeran and told him all about my best friend across the country.. the best friend I had never met.

When we finally stepped on the same soil, it was like coming home. I’d never felt instantaneously at peace with another person, but Sydney is special. She and I watched Ed Sheeran, our hands intertwined . I still remember her nails digging into my palm as Ed plucked on his guitar.

Sydney turned 23 recently. I am so pleased to say that our friendship is as strong as ever – and I can’t express how much I owe her. Sydney has let me lean on her on my worst days and she’s made my best days possible. sydney.png

I can’t wait for our future adventures, Squiddy. Happy belated birthday. xx

 

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The rules of hurting

We’re all going to hurt each other.

I’m not saying you should feel comfortable with that, nor should the notion grant you permission to hurt people left and right, but it’s true. You will hurt every single person you love – and every single person you love will hurt you.

The degrees will vary, of course. Not every pain is a death sentence. Sometimes it’s something simple, unintentional, like an ill-timed joke about your hair or forgetting someone’s anniversary when they were counting on you to make the cake. There are different levels of hurt.

Here are the rules of hurting:

  1. It is your job to tell people when something aches – even if you think they should know. Our thresholds for pain are so wildly unique that at times we must guide each other to the wounds that have been poked through our skin – even when you still see blood on their fingers.
    1. Rule one can be disregarded in two circumstances.
      1. If the person has committed bodily harm against you, there is no need to tell them about it. For example, if a man punches you in the face, do not return to him – even if he was drunk and claims he can’t remember his fist colliding with your jaw.
      2. If you have told the person before that their actions hurt you and they’ve made no move to fix it, you are under no obligation to tell them again. You can. It’s your life. But repeating oneself is tedious and hope can be most dangerous here.
  2. To paraphrase the brilliant Louis C.K., when someone tells you that you’ve hurt them, you don’t get to say you didn’t. If you have a strong bond, it hurts to find out you’ve hurt someone you love. But to trample over them and fill the air with excuses or reasons why their pain isn’t your fault is cowardly at best. We’re all going to hurt each other. That doesn’t mean we should allow our friends to hurt by our hand.
    1. Make amends, not excuses. If you can’t stop hurting someone you claim to love, please let them go.
  3. Just because you’re hurting doesn’t make you right. Those thresholds I talked about earlier? Those levels of sensitivity that guide us throughout life? They do not give you room to be cruel or vindictive. Your response to being hurt should not be to hurt someone else. And let’s be clear – having that drive doesn’t make you a monster, but acting on it does.

There are aspects of life in which you do not get a say. You don’t get to choose whether you’re chronically ill or disabled. You don’t get to choose where you come from. But it is my fondest hope that you get to choose who hurts you. It doesn’t have to be the family in which you grew up. It doesn’t have to be anyone who proved themselves unable to care for you in healthy, constructive ways.  I can’t wish you a pain-free life. But I hope you find yourself in the position to surround yourself people who will balk when they’ve hurt you, who will throw up their hands and hold you and make strides to never injure you the same way again.

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Adoration

I’m trying to put into words this magnificent, strange chunk of time in which I’ve found myself.

Did your parents ever ask for a list of what you wanted for a holiday? And you thought of everything, every toy and ad and commercial, slowly eliminating anything that was too much (rude to ask, sours the holiday) or illogical (impossible to find, can’t be wrapped)? But there are a few items lingering beneath your tongue even after you turn in your list.

Christmas morning breaks. There is snow outside and no one’s fighting, it’s warm inside, Dad fixed the fireplace before Santa got there last night and! There are reindeer prints outside that you barely notice because Mom’s guiding you to the tree. Red flannel pajamas brush against your skin and you can’t articulate the magic that’s happening here, in your sweet little living room, hardwood floors gleaming.

You watch your siblings open their gifts. The joy is almost palpable. Your child tongue is afraid to explain how good this is, so you try to take everything in: your father’s morning stubble scratches your cheek, wrapping paper covers the ground like a patchwork rug, your brother sneaks another cookie and icing coats his fingers. This is the closest you’ve ever come to having God in your house but you don’t even mind.

Finally! There’s one more present under the tree. Pastel lights wink between branches, against your parents’ teeth, in your brother’s eyes. You don’t even want to breathe too fast, you might suck it all in. So you bend, slowly, fingers pressed to cool cardboard as everyone watches. Your nickname is on the tag and you can’t help but grin. It’s really for you.

Hungry hands tear the wrapping paper into careful strips, gentle, a quiet anticipation building in the pit of your stomach. When the box is bare, you almost stop – unveiling this last present marks the end, doesn’t it, and it’s so beautiful to be here that you almost don’t care what’s inside, it doesn’t matter, your heart is so full that it’s heavy against your ribs. But your mother rests a tan hand on your shoulder and you know it’s time.

Fingernails dig into the lid, prying the box apart, and you don’t even realize you’re holding your breath until it’s open, whoosh, the air escapes you. Your eyes are squeezed shut but you see with your hands. You’re not sure when you started crying, but you open your eyes to relieve the pressure and! Inside the box! You cannot believe it, you practically refuse, you look up at your overjoyed parents and they laugh and laugh and laugh like a song, like a hymn.

You didn’t tell anyone you wanted this. You were too ashamed, too afraid to even hope. It didn’t make your list. But here it was, pristine and beautiful in a box with your name! You’re afraid to hold it, almost, because your hands are clumsy and chubby fingers could break it all apart. So instead you press the box against your chest, heart thumping against the cardboard, and you cry grateful tears.

It’s not even the present (yes, it is wonderful, how did you know?), it’s not the day, but it’s the moment. The magic of it will never happen the same way and you know that, somehow, it never could but you’re so grateful that it unfolded around you like this – fragile but whole, enough to remember it for the rest of your days, enough to replay it when you’re older and lost and in pieces.

that’s how I feel about him.

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On Again

Some days I can’t be touched, not even by animals. The thought of someone’s fingertips on my skin makes me queasy.

Some days I cry because I want to be held so badly that my skin physically hurts.

It’s not easy to think of me as a survivor of assault. I know that. Remembering that my body was a space I had to reclaim, time and time again, has never made my loved ones happy. But I want to be seen fully by the people I love. I want them to understand, almost viscerally, the ground through which I had to claw myself in order to become the woman I am today.

I relish the idea of being known to my depths and I’ve been fortunate in that there are a handful of people who can throw my voice from their mouth. I am lucky. And even they don’t want to hear about all the nights I spent peeling other people’s fingerprints from my skin.

So why do it? Why remind you of where I’ve been, of the shape of the bruises that still ache when I move?

Writing is the only thing that makes sense to me. It’s the only cure, the quickest way back to normal, the most trusted record of who I am. And for years, I wrote without sharing. I wrote for myself, chronicling every breath, every misstep, every victory. Now, I write with you.

My father told me I share too much – that my words could, at any moment, outlast me in the worst ways. For a moment, I was scared. But then I flipped through my journals, through the pages that questioned and wept and burnt for something, some sign that I was meant to live and create, some proof that my pain could matter somewhere outside of myself… and I couldn’t look back. Writing is all I can do.

It is a selfish practice. I can’t sugarcoat that. I am trying to rip experiences from the walls of my ribs, the good and the bad, so my lungs have more room to expand. But sometimes I read comments and secret messages, written for my eyes alone, and I remember that I’m not the only survivor you know.

I don’t have a tidy ending to these thoughts, only a promise that I will keep creating as often as possible and I will be honest. There are good days and there are bad days. I’ll continue to share both.

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Sleep

I don’t fall asleep; I chase sleep, feet crashing against paved streets every night in my hayday. It eludes me more often than not. In fact, I only ever catch sleep at inopportune times: during movies I wanted to see the end of, or against my boyfriend in his living room as his roommates make crepes, or while I’m flossing (fingers still in my mouth, tied together by string).

My body lurches in these moments, desperate to fight off the victory I’ve been chasing. My head falls forward and down until I snap awake for a moment, just long enough to realize everyone knows I’m sleeping. There’s nothing to be done. I try to hold conversations. I reach for cold water. I reposition myself so I’m less comfortable. But when it wants me, no amount of effort staves off sleep.

I wake up hours before anyone else on those nights. My eyes trace imaginary shapes in the dark, straining for light. Sometimes I can’t remember where I am for a second – especially when I’m by myself, in my own bed. But it lasts for just a second, and for that I am grateful. I always remember in the end.

I try to coax sleep to return. My eyes watch the door as if convinced it’ll sweep through, sand in hand, ready to lead me back into slumber. But my door stays shut, my blinds closed. I count backwards until I reach morning.

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Sometimes We Are Monsters

My sister taught me to view relationships logically. She calls her process the cost-benefit analysis and, when she first explained it to me, I thought it was too cold. How do you look at a friendship or romantic entanglement and sum up its worth? How do you justify letting someone go?

Recently, I saw a post on tumblr that reminded me of my sister’s lesson. To paraphrase, if we allow ourselves to cut people out of our lives because they’re a hindrance to our happiness, we must also accept that someone may cut us out of their life as well. It is, in fact, a give-and-take. Sometimes we are the monsters in someone else’s closet, despite our best intentions, despite our greatest aspirations. We’re going to hurt the people we love and then they will have the choice: stay or go. Sometimes, if they are afraid or hopeful, they will choose something in between – a grey area in which the ground is never still, never peaceful. When you linger there, your stomach is in your throat and you can’t fill your lungs fully. You are always out of breath, body torn between running away and bolting your feet to the floor.

I lived in that space for a very long time, longer than I care to admit. When I finally walked away, I swore to myself that I would not return. I also respect that others won’t want to be caught in that situation, which is a long way of saying that I only want people in my life who decidedly want to be there and I will never force anyone to stay by me if it hinders their happiness. I only choose people who choose me – I have no energy for anything else.

So, if you should ever want to leave me, I will urge you to go. There are very few people that I would chase

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