Soporific

Driving into the city, we watched headlights
Strip the darkness and carve a river
Of steel lightning and exhaust fumes.
I was tired and nauseated,
Dizzy from the smell of gasoline and so much
Buzzing, constant movement.
Sleep doesn’t come to me in cars,
But I teetered there,
Between waking and dreaming,
Between touching your shoulder and falling back
Into the passenger seat, near you and alone
In the 25 mile stretch of flat nothingness
That comes before revelation.
What will happen to us,
I thought,
And who cares?
All my softness has been kissed away,
And in the shadow of glass towers I will be etched
In neon and aerosol;
Fake, like jumbo television screens,
Like the packaged smell of flowers
On a subway train,
Like the sweetness in your voice when you tell me
There could never be anyone else.

But how, but how
My love?
Even this very highway is crowded
With other people’s lives,
And tonight we are all the same;
Bodies pushed flush against our futures,
A pastiche of mirrors angled back on us,
And the places we came from.

I see you push the engine
Harder,
Toward the veiled horizon;
Its palms splayed
With pitch
and static.

 

Baltimore in Storm

Standing on St. Paul Street in the rain,
The city’s largeness felt
Like a crash of thunder over the skyline.
My hand-me-down rainboots a half size too big,
I stumbled and found myself
Swimming beneath the murky halo of a street lamp.
These spring storms are liminal, I thought
Imagining the concrete buildings as wipes of charcoal
Against the steamed glass sky, all lines organic
And melting surely away: candle wax on chrome,
The shadows of metal Gods wading
In a great asphalt lake.
I felt there must be another road somewhere
Buried in conversation, or
Jutting out from these torrents of ash sickened water
Like grass growing from a sidewalk fissure.
A road to another world, a deeper world
Where time moves in kaleidoscopic shapes,
Each connection intersecting,
Every choice laid out in psychedelic harmony,
As it seems now looking back, as it will be
Moving forward.
Somewhere, a world without parallel lines,
Without end or beginning, a landscape
Of repetition.
I felt it like a growing pain inside my spine,
Something incipient, sure.
So I strained to reach it, but my fingers
Cut messily into the night
Like the frayed ends of a thread;
In my palm, nothing but raindrops and
A heaviness without form.
Beneath me, the crosswalks sparkled
As if to say
Soon.

Spring Cleaning

My home is a home of towered papers,
A bed of letters left unaddressed:
Half-figured longings that exist without
Beginning and without end,
Petal-thin and mashed
Into a pulp by bleeding summer rains.
The fingers of everything reach through
My double-hung windows.
May mornings have pale palms,
Stained grey with mementos
Of the bad I have done,
The bad I will do.
It is too much to keep,
And all this paper, as wet
As how I remember the corners of your lips,
The way they tripped over the word
Parenthesis.
Of course, I have wished for an arc,
Some vessel of preservation.
But my God is not a loving God,
My God is not a patient God.
And when I am left here alone
With my history,
There will be no expiation,
No resurrection,
No clean white room for to keep
Boxes of dust sheltered memory.
I am not unhappy,
As others have been.
I do not wrestle against the universe,
Its approximations,
Its appetite for changing,
Its tendency to forget.
Though here I have tried to say
A thing or two worth remembering,
The words are always painful,
Like young stones, coarse and jagged
Against the belly of the earth.
While the death remains senseless.
It asks for nothing, expects
The same.

Reverie

I hate talking on the telephone,
That disembodied longing,
That grief which floats
Like dust through the kitchen, suspended in intangible
Waves of wind and light, unmanned and without
A piece of bone or flesh to fall back on.

Goddamnit, I think,
Imagining the sound of you pacing
In the living room,
Twirling your hair and catching yourself
Reflected in the bay windows,
They are too foggy, I bet,
For you—and those careful eyes.
You’ll lick your fingers,
Lave the glass with spit that smells
Of mint and cayenne.
I know.

But you only purr
Goodnight,
You only click your heels
Against the coffee table,
And breathe once more,
An edgy, cutthroat breath
That will stain my thoughts
Until morning.

Yolk

You are
Still as a Sunday night,
Writing in cursive at your desk,
Playing with the light between your fingers,
Moving thin shoulders around pockets
Of empty space.

How I fuss endlessly
Over the tint of your smile—
Is it frightened?
Is it true?
Sometimes, when I sit in that
Part-dark living room,
Studying your speech,
You look back at me, and I am
Caught like an eavesdropping child
Crouched beneath the stairwell.

It is just that I wonder:
Who will pick you wildflowers
If I go?
Who will wipe the glitter from your eyelashes,
And fish your socks out from underneath the piano?
I want to be wedged between you
And a closing door,
I want to know your name both forwards and backwards,
Forwards and backwards.

This is to say,
I don’t know if I’ll ever sleep again
Without you, or
If I have ever slept
Before.

The Key is the Light

There is a light that weeps
Through the window, plush
And golden like the sheets
I slept on as a girl.
It must be heaven-sent,
A song I cannot translate
Because I do not speak
The language of God;
It is an old language,
One that crouches behind the creaking
Of rusted doors, swims beneath
The dusty static of television sets.

I am grown now,
Each morning I catalogue
The clothes my parents left me;
They smell of suburban failure,
Of lilac detergent and Macy’s perfume,
Of wet grass and gasoline.
I cry whenever I think of it,
I fold myself like a letter
And flutter towards your feet,
Thinking I will never dream listlessly
Of diamonds and company cars,
I will never give up cigarettes or alcohol
Or lechery, I will throw away everything
That cannot fit into my messenger bag,
I will write my whole life into
A poem, and it will go like this:

That light is my washcloth,
It is
The hands of my father,
The key to the last opening door,
The thread that pulls me over and over
Towards the center of the world where
All things melt and boil away.
Please, let me hold it
Between my shoulders.
Let me remember what it was like
Before.

The Tides

For what seemed like days,
I dreamt of myself as a petal
Trapped between tides.
Thin, porous, nearly translucent
On the water,
Pulled chaotically towards all ends
Of the sea.

I slept so deeply I woke up
In a fever, spent the day at home
Scrubbing bathroom tiles in my underwear,
And checking all the locks.
A storm moved through, red-eyed
And sore on the radar.
It rained enough to flood the street,
Cigarette butts and candy wrappers
Crowded the gutters like a fleet
Of dinky ships, in the grey light
The whole world seemed made
Of paper, pages upon pages
Folded and stained with charcoal,
So worn and spent that there was
Nothing left to add, no room
For art or music.
I thought of running, felt that
I could do it, but then collapsed suddenly
And sunk my teeth into my knees,
Tremendously sorry.

I thought of many different pairs of eyes,
I thought myself silly
Until I heard a voice from the street whisper
Faithless.
Suddenly, there was
No softness beneath my fingers,
Nothing fixed to grab onto.
Back bent in prayer, I asked
To be forgiven, to land gently
At your feet, brought back to

Those Sunday mornings where you
Would inspect my outline,
Wondering which parts of me
Will begin to dissolve first,
And where I will go
When I become bored of your name
On the tip of my tongue, bored
Of your shadow against the bedroom wall,
Combing through my footsteps for dirt
Tracked in from those places where
I am not supposed to go.

I thought of expiation,
As selfish people do,
I thought of calling,
If only just to say
You were wrong and
I’ll stay.

For the Salem Ave Sex Workers

A poem I wrote for the Southwest Virginia LGBTQ History Project Queer History Zine. 

Contribute to the LGBTQ+ History Project Zine! (4)-page-001

On quiet nights you stand
Under streetlamps blowing up condoms
And kicking them across the road
In plastic stilettos; I imagine
A warm spring rain making everything
Slick as an oil spill, the mountains
Like great looming shadows in the distance:
A black door with no handle,
No way under or in or across.
And you, a dew eyed teenager
In your mother’s clothes, waving
Your latex balloons at passing cars
As if in celebration, though the business men
Look at you always like something
Trapped behind glass: an odyssey,
A discount attraction, a relic from
The bad side of town, where even
The bars over the shop windows are rusted
And bent, where candy wrappers line the
Freeway like plasticine daisies.
At city council meetings, those men hold their
Wives’ hands and outline the reasons
People like you shouldn’t be allowed
To walk the streets in a city like this.
But on the weekends, they are ruthless
For love, they slam their wheels against the curb,
Cooing baby,
Asking you in their important person voices
Are you a real woman?
Meanwhile, another body is found
Discarded by the train tracks,
Another night is spent
Hiding from the hungry gaze
Of policemen and perverts and gay bashers
And all of the other powerful people
Who need you and hate you,
Who love you and fear you,

Standing small and rain-soaked
In those old party clothes,
Waving a bouquet of latex balloons.

Moving In

Some would say,
It is not enough:

The two of us crammed together
In this room that is technically
A kitchenette, where we have
Laid a borrowed mattress on the vomit
Colored carpeting, and packed the defunct sink
With office supplies and tax forms,
Stuffed every abandoned cabinet full
With well-worn literature and the notes
That I once wrote you
When we were younger.
It is a small, crowded life;
Not large enough for a decent
Bookshelf, not glamorous enough
To be envied by anyone.
I think my parents suspect
I might be crazy, or maybe
Desperately alone.
In truth, I have never
Been good at coexisting.
I know, at times,
You have turned away and cursed me
For my messiness, the way I’ve let
My bad habits bleed out until they
Beat against the baseboards.
I will do better tomorrow,
I say to myself as I fix my hair up
In the morning.
Sometimes, in a softer voice,
I whisper Help us.

You always say we chose each other
I don’t know if that’s enough,

When the ceiling leaks,
And the wood splinters beneath our feet,
And neither of us really knows
When the next big failure,
Will come kicking in the door,
To destroy our patch-work sanctuary,
Which hangs so delicately here
In the foothills of a hurt-filled world.

It could be months, it could be
Tomorrow.
There is a thin, black shadow
Crouched beneath everything.

But you have hung our picture,
On the broke-down dishwasher,
You have plugged the drafty window panes
With copies of my poetry.
It is not much,
But there are nights when I can’t fall asleep
Without my head on your shoulder,
There are days when I can’t think
Of anything right with the world,
Except the time I steal away
With you.

We chose each other,
There is no guarantee.
But we chose each other,
Yes, I would do it all
Again.

Autumnal Reverb

Another edit from last fall. 

Autumn came at last, it was the color
Of your mother’s tablecloth, and it smelled
Of burnt coffee and Oakwood.
I drove out to the orchard, where the air smelled sweeter,
Like a woman’s perfume,
So full of sugar and fruit rot.
I picked up a bushel of leaves, I held them
Because they were dead, and so
Another year passes into rose colored
Memory.
From the top of the mountain,
All the valley was aflame with terminal foliage.
I imagined each tree branch as an arm lifting itself
Toward heaven, praying fervently
For more chances.

Grief is a crowded feeling.
I wonder when there will be room enough
In my head to love something new?
Now, it feels like a tape reel
Playing clips disjointed and jagged,
Filling me with a worn down kind of dread.
I remember a silver gold crimson yellow car
And a man, I remember watching
His grey blue green brown eyes open and close.
I remember the girl who kissed me
At the Halloween party, she tasted of
Gin rum metal lavender.
It is not an exact science,
Remembering.
Each thing left behind coruscates,
Like dust in a sunbeam, rains down
Like a thin autumn snow.

The ground is choked,
I am walking
Nowhere.