milk summer

I move around his body like glass or a fragile plant,
skirting its edges, touching it only with cupped
hands, feeding & watering on careful schedule.

I fear the finality of his presence, the fullness
of his being here. his lungs, life, picked
up and dragged cross country for what?

proximity, to sleep with sheets instead of states
between us. milkshakes nearly every day
in this summer that won’t break

and a dog for each of us. it’s everything
we wanted but the thing about satisfaction
is it doesn’t last. we’re on the edge of what

could go wrong. the scale could tip so many
ways: I leave chocolate out for an empty house
and the dogs turn up dead, we forget how

and why we used to fuck, he refuses hand towels
that match the curtains. our indulgences
grow foreign and soon don’t indulge in each other.

I wish I wasn’t scared of so many ways
we could end up. I want to move
through this city like a lover. unencumbered

by the weight of what we have already
given up. I want to see more futures
of us, park benched and satisfied

with our sweet small lives.

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midtown hospital

i.
helicopters perched on midtown
hospital two blocks from my bed,
whirring like metal bugs, descending
on the critical, the maybe
savable. it’s the loudest
at night: the heart’s favorite time
to call it quits. i can’t ignore
the question of who: whose
body fits the gurney, whose
face pulled open with pain,
what parts remain
intact. what if it’s a body
i know. what if i don’t find out
til morning.

ii.
mom had freakish emt stories
i asked for again, and again.
how many times can i hear
construction worker with a pole
dropped straight through his skull,
still living, walking, just suddenly
unable to bend. or motorcyclist
like a piece of paper folded
down the middle, licked, and ripped
by asphalt: reduced, suddenly, by half.
there is nothing to learn
from this except accidental violence
is one way to go. (i check my head
for holes gone unnoticed, continued
completeness of my limbs.)
that sometimes you are dead
before you know it.

iii.
i have never lost anyone, except
a saxophone teacher (after just
one lesson together) whose lungs
filled with blood gone hard
after anesthesia. i think
about him at least once
or twice a year but remember him
dead. how is it i remember everyone
i’ve ever known who died but so few
others? this loss of acquaintances is
a conversational commodity,
a place to direct scheduled
sadness, share in the peripheral grief.

iv.
each night is merciless
in its uncertainty—who
will make it to morning, whose phone
will ring with the news.
i think about how my mom coughs
thick after waking, my dad walks
off center and my love carries lumps
of fat or tumor beneath skin.
it’s never been one of them
skyborne, suspended by rotors
and so much air, but only
by chance. maybe i am ruined
by the lack of loss—i just need
something big to go. one example
of permanent absence i lived
after.

coming home

when he says he’s coming home
after a month in another state
doing what is promised necessity,
it feels like the end of a good book.
i have grown used to leftovers, to
the full width of the bed, constant
music over the good speakers.
there are two dogs and I have two
hands. the dishes are always done.

sure, there have been small
lonlinesses. once i realized I hadn’t
spoken aloud the entire day.
another time the old dog was sick
and i was alone with the fear so big
it took up the whole couch. i stood
or walked for two days until
the dog kept down dinner again.

i do what i should to ready
myself: i bake a pie he likes
or has significance, i vacuum
twice and darken the duster.
i know he won’t want it,
will mourn the death of the dust
mites and leave his plate
on the table just so it feels
like his home, too. i will resent

his little rebellions and dream myself,
as though mid snow-angel,
spread wide and happy.

summer camp

the girls bear the weight of themselves
like urns of water, balanced or sometimes
not. some falls onto their shoulders. knees
and elbows wet with their bodies’
misunderstandings. eating snacks on summer
camp cots, the girls laugh, full of air
and drops tumble into their hands,
a silent rain. hands make poor vessels
but they have been given nothing better.
here, July in the south, there is no sky.
guide the girls to the river to fill themselves
again. we drink pickle juice and runoff
and throw up empty. we are all bad
at saving for later. when the girls eat
all their snacks the first night, i am pitiless
and still so hungry.
the first and only time i held a bird
it was dead. found wing and splinter
in the stairwell, the girls sit around me as if waiting
for a speech. their pupils wide and all
black: my body is small and upside down
in their eyes. they are old enough
for this but not old enough to go at it alone.
this place is full of different deaths:
the wasps spin drunkenly off the cinderblock,
june bugs like flying oil stains, flies pile up
in the windowsills, the girls bleed through
their sheets. every corner is a burial
ground. summer teaches us what we can take.
the faucets leak red clay, the creek
has gone to rust. it’s dirt we know. we bury
the bird without words in the soft muck,
refill our chests with river water. the mud
is cool and gritty on our tongues.

(untitled still)

because the dark is the only time
the heat is breathable, we walk.
it’s what we share: restlessness
past discomfort, feet like old

leather. past the cicada tree
so loud it spooks the dog, leaves
me light tongued and ringing.
a man yells from a passing

suv, his voice swallowed
by this summer-gone-sour.
i am almost thankful for his
practiced flattery but mostly

made to feel thin cotton
sucking at skin, sweat
in tributaries down my stomach,
outline of my tits dark

with wet. i wish i wasn’t so quiet
with my body, that i could rub
myself together and scream.
cicadas’ singing is a series of ribs

buckling in on themselves, clicking
as they cave. i suppose my body
makes sounds in its collapse.
sounds no one would call

song. if it isn’t about loneliness
it’s a lie. i am walking because
i want to, because the dog needs
a little extra attention today

is a lie. the glossy insects live
underground sucking at roots
and wriggling unglamorously
for seventeen years. then:

one supreme month under only
streetlights, risen from the dirt
to die. a strange instinct: to die
in the open. i wonder if it’s worth
the wait.

bear in the national forest

when it gets dark
we remember
the bear: body so big
both of us could sleep
inside him, the lumbering
we know is all choice.
his mouth an oversized
version of our little black
dog, full of teeth kept sharp
by branch and bone.
nylon is the only barrier
between us and him. it isn’t
enough, but we pretend
it might be. we hear
the bear in everything.
we don’t know how to handle
this wild silence. we busy
ourselves with our hands,
lips as distraction but
nothing happens. the fear
is bigger than whatever
we mash between us. we are soft
naked and our nakedness
makes us feel more prey.
it’s easy to forget ourselves
as flesh, as something to eat
uncooked and wet in the night.
in the morning we find bear
scat outside our tent. in the bright
bird sounds of dawn we feel
untouchable again.

(1)

obachan standing, bloody
hoe in hand, eyes wide and wet
with fear or victory, four foot
black rat snake, no danger
to anything human,
cut to pieces at her feet.

first time i am scared
of this woman who loves me,
glad the garden tools sleep
outside. i touch the snake’s
lonely head and obachan
snaps in a voice from a different
throat. this moment she is
a mother again, gone the smoothed
corners of age.

she realizes
her ridiculousness: this
unreasonable violence.
the death around her feet
like the start of a garden.