valentina

twice a week i teach philosophy to kids
at the salvation army. they’re eight, nine, ten. we sit
on cheap plastic and ask each other questions
which are better than answers. the kids almost all
have it tough at home. that is not something
i can fix. it’s my job to teach them to sculpt
a good society even if their hands won’t ever get big
enough to fix this one. some days they’re too tired:
one little girl falls asleep with her head in her hands
like she is used to sleeping sitting up and i wake her
to ask what makes art art. she tells me her papa is all tattoo,
so her papa is art, and so she is a little bit art also.
i have tattoos, i like how ink looks under skin but
i don’t think i would like her papa. on the days
he remembers to come pick Valentina up
i see teardrops pricked into his cheek. when he lifts her,
her body shrinks to half its size. i want to tell her
it is not your father’s tattoos that make you.
i ask the kids to draw a picture they think is art
and another they think is not, and Valentina keeps asking
for new sheets of paper—she can’t draw
one that isn’t art, she says. i tell her
that’s a good problem to have.

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face full of kisses

i am still wearing the sequin dress
from new years eve somehow
it has not wrinkled. i am still fish scales

& metal. the skin on my legs peels
like a sticker but my palms are firm
and tight as persimmon skins. i prefer

to be fruit with a pit. berries are too
soft. i cannot afford to turn mush in the heat.
i tell you i might need some Real Help

this time. someone who knows
the right things to say or how to write
prescriptions. it is hard to find

the line between sad where you
just need to climb out of the hole and
the kind that has already begun

to bury you. Real Help is above
my pay grade. this fear spreads like strawberries.
how else do things end up the way they end

up? i look wrapped in aluminum foil.
i tell myself once, it looked sexy.
once your back arched a question

& your pockets were always full
of quarters. there is lipstick beneath
my eyes no i can’t wipe this off, this

face full of kisses. it is how i know
i have been in one place too long.
there are different ways to live

without stagnancy. one way is to keep
finding new cities that can’t swallow you.
another is to find new people that will.

there is a cost to this motion, an art
to living longer than you can afford.
your body flaps like a drying dish

towel pulled tight by thin line. you say
you are grateful, that i am good
at doing what ever it is we are doing.

you believe that only if you don’t know
what this is, this thing separate
from our bodies that we are starving,

feeding, starving again. it’s better
when it’s hungry, when there is a want
between us. i am stuck in this city

without help, without water
deep enough to drown
and too many nice dresses. i am

trying to coax myself out of this dirt
and into stillness for you. you hug me
from behind and your arms knot

like rope. i have never been good at staying
put. i was made a wheel, a motor.
or maybe a wing.

running

i can’t tell what this is about, this want
for running. yesterday it was seven.
today, ten miles. my knees look like
tomatoes, squishy with the swell.
i have never been able to run that far.
walking down stairs takes twice
as long and both hands on the rails,
a full body endeavor. it started when
i stopped being so sad all the time.
or maybe i’m not so sad all the time
because of this. this self care
is indistinguishable from trying to hurt
just enough—it is harder to feel anything
much when the body is so tired.
the options: joints like vegetables
left too long in the sun & a touch
of seratonin. or body intact, unswollen & too
little want to leave the shower. once
i spent four hours behind the curtain
and only left because my heart beat
felt wrong from all the heat. no towel.
the water made a river to my bed.
the mold started slowly, sheets wet
for days it was like sleeping
inside a dewey corn husk it almost felt good
but not quite. nothing ever quite
felt good. now i am hair damp after
a normal length shower, legs
covered in bags of ice. a roommate finds me,
asks why do you do that to yourself. it is hard
to be honest the only real thing
to say is that it makes the bad thing
into something different. the last winter
storm knocks hard on the front door.
the roommate answers it, walks out
onto the porch in just his boxers. it’s hard
to see him, even so close. he leaves
the porch, down the street with no shoes.
the snow looks like pillows swinging
at his body. i imagine it doesn’t feel
quite so soft. maybe it is the good
kind of hurt. 

west wash

never have i had a schedule like this: one that feels
do-this-every-day-til-you-die. the same 1.1 miles
to work, sometimes puddles sometimes ice.
i pass a section 8 apartment building and try
to say good morning to everyone who will look
me in the eye. maybe it is polite habit maybe
i am just trying to help. i pass the buildings between
nine and nine fifteen. the cast is often the same:
woman with daughter holding her backpack strap
in her hand, dragging the tired old bag behind her.
middle aged man walking ridiculous puff of a dog,
its screeches audible through headphones.
i smile at him too but hate that thing, a sorry excuse
for a pet. the man who looks barely older than me
with a face full of potholes. his lips look indented
where the cigarette sits. he paces while he smokes,
as if walking the same six sections of sidewalk
might counteract the tar and carcinogens. i take
an extra long step to avoid an uncapped needle.
i am wearing boots with soles as thick as a steak
but you can never be too careful. i say good morning
as i pass and he breathes out heavy, lungfuls of
smoke catch in my hair and i know the lady
who sits next to me at work will notice the smell.
i wonder if he will do this every day now. if i will say
good morning and he will douse me in cigarette stink.
another addition to the list of rituals that come
with this sort of living. lady-who-sits-beside-me will think
i’ve taken up smoking. perhaps i will take up smoking.
the only reason not to smoke is so people won’t think
you smoke—it can look unbearably cool. cigarettes
are unfair this way. if you already look like the bassist
for some up and coming, cigs can only make
you cooler. but if you are standing outside
section 8 housing with skin like a bad backroad,
the smoke smells terrible and nicotine nails
peel like old wall paper. it is not a life
i would choose. luckily it is not a choosing game.
maybe some morning i will step on the needle instead.