I have kissed no one since you. Isn’t that ridiculous? I forget it, and then suddenly it strikes me all over again, like a creased poem falling out of a book last read months ago. Lately everything I do is just for the sake of making myself laugh. I get drunk on cheap wine on Tuesdays. I watch the same movie each morning for a week. I don’t eat, and then I eat nothing but matzo.
You loved me silly. You loved me like you were inventing it.
There is a person waving from six months down the tunnel, and I think she might be me. I bet she stands above cities at night. I bet she knows how not to be afraid of the underpass beneath Lake Shore Drive. I bet she drinks gin.
There’s a boy who sits next to me in class, who scribbles notes to me about my lipstick, who grins when he touches my thigh and asks for a sip of my diet Coke. He loves Faulkner, and he doesn’t love me, and I like it that way.
There is a girl waving from down the tunnel, and I can’t quite tell what color her hair is.
CCCXXXV. the way to really fly
Is there a German word for the purity that comes with perching on a stool in the train station food court at midnight and somehow only feeling possibility? Between the dull light of the McDonald’s and the apathy of conductors waiting for their last ride out beats a thrum of changing seasons. Everyone knows the only summer days worth waiting for are the first and the last.
I press my hands against my face and feel the warmth of everyone who’s grinned a doofy grin when I entered a room and made fun of my age the right way. The ultimate intimacy lies in not flinching when someone tousles your hair.
(For a time, there were castles in my future.
For a time, there was nothing.)
The girl with the backpack across from me is wearing the same sunglasses we handed to the graduating class of 2009 with a little note that read “your future’s so bright, you need shades!”. I feel so stupidly lucky that I get to sit at this plastic counter with a stale doughnut on a Tuesday night, waiting for a train that’s still an hour away. Summer will thrum for a few days more. I wrap my fist around possibility and hold it tight.
See ya soon, kid.
A poem, someone’s angry with God, isn’t someone always angry with God? A panic attack, and I never make it to the second verse because all of my grandmothers are dead and from whom am I to get wrinkled, soft advice? From whom am I to get wisdom that sounds like it’s being read from an old diary, written long before I was born?
I could call a therapist, but what would I even say? “I’ve been crying a lot lately”. I’ve always been crying a lot lately. I’m still sleeping in this fucking sweatshirt four days after it should have been washed and six days after it’s stopped smelling like you.
There’s a ghost in my bed. The opposite of a ghost, really; I willed it into existence. “22. I miss you bad.” There were days when you tugged and I was an astronaut who suddenly realized they’d been tethered home the entire time. Now I hold the rope tight and watch for you to pull scissors from your pocket.
There are poems I won’t ever read past the first line again.
There are places I didn’t take you because I didn’t want to have to forget them once you were gone.
CCCXXX. may flowers
Sunlight returns from its winter in Palm Springs on a Saturday afternoon. By Monday, we have traded wool coats for strange tan lines and strapless dresses. I see my first violets on Tuesday morning and reflexively pick them from the earth, then spend an hour feeling guilty.
“I stole them from nature,” I tell a boy on the bus, and he offers “put them in your hair,” but that feels precious, precious in a way that’s never fit me, like a dress with the waistline three inches too high. I prefer loud and aggressively sentimental.
The mysteries of the universe lie not in tides but in wedding rings on strangers. The moon controls the tides, the water cycles purposefully, the rhythms never change. How the fuck do people find each other? How did you find me?
Carl Sagan set the contents of our planet free and then fell in love. I wonder which he considered his greatest achievement. I’m afraid of whales and I think the ocean is too large. I cry when anyone mentions Auschwitz. The universe of things I don’t understand is comically vast, but I’ve seen Chicago at least thirty times and I think you might not mind that.
Everything I write now is a love letter I’m too embarrassed to send. One day I’ll press them into your skin, set them free against the crook of your neck. They’re yours, after all, no matter how much I blush when I offer them over.
“I’m not one for writing love poetry,”
but I’d let you put violets in my hair.
CCCXXVIII. for my brother, who does not have cancer
the human body is resilient; in 1997 i slapped you in our living room, your chubby cheek reddening from the force, and i hated the tears in your eyes — blameless. i wanted you to fight back.
i didn’t know i’d one day come across you sleeping, too-long legs slung over the end of the couch, and that i’d stand there, in awe of the stubble along your jaw, and wonder if the skin there remembers the red mark that bloomed beneath my palm.
i am sorry that i disappeared without knowing yet what it meant to be your sister. you’ve understood love the way a body knows to breathe; spilling it over everyone you met, offering to great aunts that same cheek for red lipstick roses where i could only flinch out of their reach.
it took me longer; you have legs too long for the couch, and you could flinch out of my reach, and sometimes you do and that’s okay because i like to think i’d step in front of a moving bus, a bullet, but sometimes i screen our mother’s calls from two hundred miles away, despite knowing that you will have to hold what i refuse to take.
so this is my promise:
i will take her calls
i will plan the funerals
i will always come when you call
and i will always love you
without provisions, without qualifications,
just the way you taught me
I don’t understand sports and you’ve never seen The West Wing, and that was a joke until it wasn’t, until it was a question I was asking myself, alone on the couch on Sunday evening.
I am not okay -
I don’t know why.
(But I know this: I do not want to spend my life getting out of bed to find and rescue you.)
(Also this: I would, anyway.)
You are not okay -
and there is nothing I can do about it.
(Nothing is on fire. There is no flooding to be stopped. The unsexy emergencies of everyday life are the ones without handbooks.)
Instead, I think I’ll drink a lot of tea and
let the warmth be enough to make me feel like
there’s not a hole in these sweatpants and
I can love anyone
i used to know how to talk about my father.
now instead, i sit quietly and imagine that i can put my hands on my brother’s face, kiss his forehead, watch him be okay. but he’s too tall to reach and he flinches from my gaze.
and he is not okay, probably.
(there’s something inherently selfish about thinking that simplicity, that the ease of waking up on a threadsun morning and turning your face to the window, could be what leads to happiness. no, happiness is already there, waiting.
there’s something inherently selfish, too, about being 200 miles away from sadness. but we don’t think about that.)
the first words ever spoken on a telephone were “come here—I want to see you”, and that’s all we’ve said since. alexander graham bell knew: there is no substitute for touch.
i won’t call.
CCCXVIII. the world’s worst love poetry
i want you to look both ways before crossing the street, even when the light is green. i want to know what it’s like to tangle my fingers in your hair, and what our breath would look like in winter - winding and unwinding,
under the buzzing light on a back stoop in seattle
or in the glow of traffic from a balcony high above chicagoor barely visible on a faded fire escape in iowa city
in a box in my mother’s basement are fifteen years-worth of report cards that show that i can Work Hard and Help Others, that i Don’t Distract Others and i Follow The Rules, but oh, if i could trade them in for a single lesson on how to wait quietly for my turn to love you,
i would. i really would.
and here’s the selfish part, the unforgivable terrible no-turning-back truth:
i want only good things for you — kindness and lightness and warm days and happiness — but after that, i want you
(look both ways before crossing the street, even when the light is green)
CCCIX. missing persons
"I am afraid that when this is all over, I won’t remember what it felt like, or what my seat looked like, or what it was to live in the city on the eleventh day of October."
Instead there are habits I’ve picked up that I can’t recall developing, like tying the ends of my hair into knots, and running my hands over each other again and again and again and -
you, slipping away while my head was turned.
An uncle once told me that the hardest part of saying goodbye to his dying wife was knowing that he wouldn’t see her again.
"I believe in heaven," he said, "and I believe that she’ll go there. But I won’t."
I am not here to talk about sadness. This story reminds me of you; I can’t shake the feeling that, cigarette in one hand, the other closing around my wrist, you’d understand.
We haven’t found a word yet, have we, for the way the light reflects off of the wet street after dark on a rainy-cold fall night. For waiting at a bus stop and knowing that home is warm and well-lit and waiting, that voices will call to you from open doors, how was your day?, and care to hear the answer.
The last year of my life has been about making plans, then saying, “fuck it,” and taking an abrupt left turn. And it’s been fine, it’s been great, it’s been absolutely batshit crazy wonderful, only—only you can only go without a map for so long before you hit an ocean, and it might not be the one you were looking for.
“The way the math works out, I’m only halfway done,” I say to her, and she laughs at me.
“Do you remember, when you were a math major, you came home one day and told us you’d learned in class that there were multiple infinities. Infinities come in different sizes, different shapes, you can add them together or multiply them and get another infinity.”
“So what the math works out to doesn’t really mean anything. Don’t count the days. You’ll be back soon.”
Home is warm and well-lit and waiting.