forget dark fingerprints on white walls
that you pressed me into stucco like a sculptor’s tool.
our hands clean of chalk,
our walls smooth as skin whose touch we never knew.
the word love is not marred with a thousand raised points
dried hard before you could smooth them.
lover, what did you do
with words I put in pen,
spilled black across white sheets
as we were,
sweaty clutched between your palms
as we were
mine swallowed, swimming through my ribs
stuck soft between the bones
deep as body can manage but
my heart is a shallow pool
in it you once dove
breaking both our necks.
danger lurking at its surface
turquoise cut brilliant
to shine beneath the water waiting
for the poem I cannot write
is still contained in your eyes.
How could you; I told you secrets I was not willing to tell myself; I tackled you in the parking lot and kissed you, hard, in front of everyone, like I said I never would; when we lay quiet in the backseat I tasted linseed oil on your skin; I shared with you noises that no one else had heard before; I wrote you letters that were beautiful if only for their truth, their vulnerability; you wrote me songs that hum along my bones. Still.
I burned every letter, both yours and mine, the minute after it ended. I’m a good criminal, you always said, either that or a lawyer, what’s the difference; I knew that I needed to destroy the evidence or I would be implicated in a crime. The sentence for having loved and lost you was the realization that I was not invincible; for a year I did not look at you, for a year I did not speak to you, for a year I caught your blue eyes seeking mine from across hallways, classrooms, darkened dance halls. I never cried for you. That part of me was shut tight, my eyes were emptied; instead there was a hollow ringing in my ears, throat, fingers: my body trying not to hear, to speak, to touch you.
Two years after we spoke for the last time, you wrote me a letter; only then did I cry angry, mournful tears; in it you said what I had been longing to hear but we would not be together again: the threads were tangled, I could not undo any of time’s knots.
I cried not for you but for the beauty we could have; because maybe it had been my last chance, to love someone while I was still unbruised and naive and optimistic; for the happiness you had given and then taken from me. I’ve never been able to retrieve it.
Because before you I went on planes assuming they would crash, took with a degree of skepticism claims about what we would do when we landed (so presumptuous); with you I imagined fantastic, secret stories of our future. One night when I was seventeen you brought me out of darkness, you shone clear light into the muddled gray of my existence, no other source had proved so bright and inextinguishable; for the first time, I could see why people clung to life, smiled, made plans for the next day.
In June we took kayaks out on the lake, imitating the water birds you pointed out: two loons, a pair of swans, a quiet blonde girl and a babbling dark-haired boy; later, you and I in the boathouse, wooden walls made soft with time, sand underfoot, in the darkness only summer takes, thick as velvet, frogs resting on the shore and crying out for the very thing that you and I had found. You tasted like lake water, your hair floppy as fronds, your mouth never found me so surely. Out in the middle of the water you told me you loved me and darted quick across the surface, assuming I would follow; since then I think I’ve forgotten how to swim, my ankles tangled deep in sediment and pond weeds, for years I’ve been diving off the same dock.
Forever would she dream of him: first of catching him, and then, years later, of forgetting.
1. you were not fine
spitting coffee-colored phlegm in a sink at a bar outside wichita, ignoring the urgency with which I jiggled the door handle. it was one in the afternoon and the the alcoholics started pouring in, pouring cool glasses of bells to ease their shaky hands. they thought I was someone’s daughter; they tried not to think of their own.
2. I was not fine
seventeen years old, in and out of new york-presbyterian four times already. no one but you knew. I called my parents from predetermined geographic locations twice a day every day of that trip, murmuring, “we are fine,” as you kissed my neck in a beige motel off route 62. I cannot believe they let me go with you but they had stopped looking to God for moral guidance years ago, when I first saw the underside of a bridge that turned out not to be quite high enough.
3. you could not save me
watching your hands clutch the steering wheel, ripping anxious holes in my clothing as I squirmed in the passenger seat, knowing I would lose you in six months’ time. you were supposed to be good for me. instead you swerved across the yellow line as an eighteen-wheeler headed towards us. I woke up to the horn blaring, felt a fading disappointment that we had not ended that way. perhaps if I had died with you I would not have tried it later, without you.
4. I could not save you
that night you almost meant it when you said it, never repeated. I began to think I wanted it so much that I’d crafted the whole thing in my slightly crooked mind. you began to seem less real to me, someone I’d just made up between hospital visits. I started asking my parents questions like, have I ever been to oklahoma, and was there a boy who went along. and for the fifth time I found my way to the inpatient waiting room, jiggling my ankles uncontrollably. this time tearing at skin instead of fabric. when they asked me to visualize my center I said I’d left it in a green honeymoon suite in salt lake city. I told them I would contact you and never did. losing it was losing to you, somehow. you never knew.
5. maybe this
perhaps we reached the pacific and never left, fixed up in a beach house outside pescadero. perhaps I finally slept, lulled by ocean hymns, weak in your sweat. perhaps our children were perfectly sound of mind instead of fucked from the start, a joke I never forgave you for. perhaps we ignored avocados falling to the ground and glorious sunsets and endless days of blue; perhaps we had so much together it stripped the veneer off all other precious things. perhaps in happiness I have no need for paper. the simplest and most impossible: you.
If I tore myself to shreds I could stretch all twelve-hundred miles to you.
To come unraveled, I’d run shears along the cross-threads,
cut free thick ligaments of sadness.
What kept me from you last time. What holds me whole.
To be nothing more than string to wind around your finger.
To be wrapped tight in knots across your flesh, to tickle at your ear.
But when you turned there would be nothing left of me, just a string breaking in the breeze, leading back where I once stood. The brown bottoms of my shoes waiting coiled like a garden hose unused. Even now I am ripping at the threads, winding body back on fabric bobbins. For I would rather birds line their nests with the soft fragments of me than live whole, without you.
Handfuls of copper skin, icy noses, toes buzzing. Hair braided together, coils of blonde and brown. I still smell your sheets in dreams. Your perfect, beautiful mother (I was as much in love with her as I was with you); your accomplished, professional mother washed your sheets with almond detergent she brought from trips to Israel. I miss her hands reflecting sunlight in gold rings across your kitchen counter. She would offer me red peppers and hummus and we would crunch in silence, these two women who loved you most. She has your eyes and she knows as much about you as I do. As I did.
I fell behind my defenses with such military efficiency that you interpreted it as an offensive. These preparations actually catalyzing a conflict that was in no way impending. You should have known better. I thought you knew everything, about me.
My body still remembers you. How is it that I have spent years running and
you remain? Across my path have flitted thousands of boys whose names I do not know, but I still trace the path your lips took one night so long ago. Dozens of kisses, better or worse, a few boys I almost convinced myself to love. I stop returning their calls but your number is burned across my mind. I am cruel to them but I have committed to memory every kind thing you said to me.
The first is the best high. Every one who follows needs to be so much better to barely be enough. I can’t write anything I haven’t put into words before and this is what it was like, with you. Grasping ghosts and demanding their name. Coming up with smoke. It is something not quite like love, instead a grieving; mourning, the touching of cold breath across my ears when I remember how you said my name, as though it was a warning.
I am trying to write you perfectly, precisely, capture you in text, so that I might resurrect you. It is selfish, this, trying to have you forever, at my bidding, years after I did the first time. Ultimately your form is jagged and unsatisfying.
I heard you’re almost famous. I heard your girlfriend finally broke up with you, and that it destroyed you. I heard that I destroyed you, long ago.
I think you must know, all these years later, that you drove the knife in just as deeply. You decided to show your scars, and I hid beneath long sleeves.
I did not know
who killed herself
at Myers’ Point
Torn in brambles, my hair, your white skin leaving bloody marks across untouched sheets. Your eyes blank as cages, containing something animal and desolate; I should not pay a visit but it is too tempting to have what was once wild as your captive. Locked-up animals grow to resent those on the outside, not knowing the difference between spectator and the one who chained him; I will leave before you realize that I saw your loneliness, clear behind the bars; that I knew your chains were self-inflicted.
When you hang your hand like a branch above my head I will reach to pluck its fruit, your fingers taste of smoke and the crab apple blossoms I used to place on my tongue for I was a strange child and you were too, I know, drawing dark spirals in crayon and losing hours in pastel dust. These things you never outgrew.
I could write on water with the breaths you take. I should ask you to sign your name on some part of me for I can never remember it, hide your lines deep within some tendon that seems to be an indelible surface but is revealed to be composed of simple liquid [I do not know you] I could stop time with the fear of losing you, by simple wanting, the universe would recognize in me the tremors of a force defying its own physics. Rewrite our natural laws, turn me from solid to mist, evaporating from your skin in tender clouds; the first time I’ve been high enough to see them, laid down like the quilted outside of an airplane window.
They say ears are better identifiers than fingerprints. They say someday they will photograph them, replacing license headshots. Even yours, the lovely unattached and its fraternal twin stuck firmly to your head; they are going to map the swirls and the delicate shade of red they take when you pass and say, “Hello.” They will link you to your forgotten name and perhaps to me. This is why I scan your earlobes with my tongue, nudge them flat against my nose. But my prints are never clear, always shifted in saliva and the careless mistakes of a recorder you compromised with callused hands scaling the sides of her ribs and finding laughter. This is why I have to take so many measurements, why I return again and again when I am not distracted surveying the tributaries of veins in your neck or the slope of V cutting your lower stomach like the prow of a ship. Because I would like to know you, someday.