madison

this city is a quilt
of places i know.
it’s unavoidable: contact
with the familiar. each house
i’ve been is a reason
to leave. an ache. first
it’s Little Blue on Johnson
where my friends live
without me. i’ve eaten jam
and warmed biscuits here.
a stack of my bread baskets
sits on one counter and
they look like part of a stage
set. i go inside and can’t sit down.
i pass a house jack could have lived
but didn’t. i want to imagine
him inside but not expecting
me. sometimes it’s good
enough to know someone
is there. still playing
the guitar or slicing mushrooms
or smoking a cigarette or
next, it’s where i came,
once, after a date to let
a boy rub himself on my
legs or stomach or wherever
even though i didn’t really
want to. he grabbed
at the softness snuggled
around my waist and said
something about liking curvy
girls and then i liked him
even less. then, the place
a friend of a friend doesn’t live
anymore. people i love drank wine
on the porch and were happy.
it rained so we raced, bared bloody
feet through parking ramp
puddles screaming names
of those running screaming
my own name and not knowing
who it belonged to

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the splitting

imagine the baby that doesn’t grow
inside me maybe fingernails maybe
a little nose a nub like mine or maybe
not. it’s all the same now, all

nothing. a small swelling / a silent
unspooling. imagine you have
coffee with a friend except she is also
you. imagine she leaves when you blink
except it’s while you are sleeping.
imagine you will never see her again
except there was never really a body
to see just bits and bits knitted together
like quilt turned rags. how can i make
this real. if my insides are such a hard place

to survive why am i here / can’t i leave
also. i love-ache her fist sized absence.
once i thought this might be too hard
what if i can’t do it what if my motherbone
splits unevenly who will get the wish
she must have heard me i guess she was
in here too. how gruesome this is no one
tells you, the hot stink of death in your ears
the taste rolling to a boil in your throat
and the worst is that i didn’t even

know it. i couldn’t feel her gone. i can’t
even return her to the dirt the earth can’t
reclaim anything it did or didn’t grow.
the pipes swallowed what would have
become a life / she is wet drowned
and rushing in pieces i try to pretend
will someday reach the ocean.

day 8

on the way home from work i clean
beneath my fingernails with my teeth.
i swallow whatever i find but don’t count
the calories. my left thumb yields something
salty. the right index is a bit of pastry
dough grown crunchy. someday i’ll unearth
a raw bit of sausage or egg and maybe it’ll
teach me. there are so many bad habits. mostly
i go easy on myself because it’s what i can do.
you have to start somewhere. you just have
to start.

a work poem

my boss at the bakery touches the inside of my arm
with a hot spatula and yelps for me. i am already a grid
of injury, it’s hard to tell which burn is new. i smear lavender
oil over half the limb just to be sure. slick and shining, i am stunning
over stove top: all grease and flecks of potato and now the smell
of herbs and grapeseed. i want him to think of me every time
he fries an egg. i imagine he is the kind of man
who buys organic vegetables but smokes cigarettes when he drinks.
it’s boring to be too self-preservationist. he refills my water glass
with coffee and pretends it’s an honest mistake. the only real gift
he has given me: a small wooden-handled stainless steel blade,
foldable and very sharp. practical. i keep it tucked in my winter
jacket pocket, practice opening it one-handed while walking.
the pocket hangs in strips of cut cloth against my side. immediately
after metal hits skin, it’s a welt like the backbone of an old cat.
twelve hours, the welt has melted down. just a streak of red. two days
and it is like a smashed earthworm on the skin. what a lovely
spot of ruin. i peel apples with the small knife while he cracks
eggs into hissing butter.

start of a poem/unfinished

in the dream it is you.
or at least it’s your voice
in a different mouth. or
at least it’s how you blink
hard when you’re thinking
on a different face.
at least it’s your fingers
laced onto different hands
but maybe not, because
in the dream you never
touched me. everything
is wrong when i ask
you questions, you give
me little bits back like
tastes of something terrible.
in the dream it is not me
because not me is yelling,
screaming even and me
doesn’t raise my voice.
she’s yelling what is
the matter with you why
would you do something
like that. i pretend i don’t
know what she’s yelling
about. in the dream it’s
different but only a little.
dreams are a cheap way
to talk about things that
weren’t but could have,
were almost. in the dream
she yells you into the shape
you deserve.

the last sad poem

i wish now i had written you
more love poems. i wish i hadn’t
written us as drowning when
we weren’t, wish i hadn’t written
the fear into domesticity so soon.
i wish i had always chosen to be gentle.
now, we are all wish. maybe we have
always been that, all each other’s
almost-what-i-want’s. i keep
referring to us in the past tense.
i try to convince myself the unconscious
doesn’t know anything. it is not
a meaningful slip. these little lies
are okay but they seem to grow
on their own. once i nearly convinced
myself you aren’t leaving. it was
only a second but it felt so good.
what pieces do i get to keep?
the way you and the dog sleep
with your bodies curled the same.
how you push up your glasses
with your middle finger like they might slide
off your nose and keep
sliding. the angle of your mouth
when you are disappointed, the little
shake of your head. how tight
your curls get when they’re dirty.
once when we stood in front
of art we both probably thought
was stupid and i wanted you
to keep me like a quarter under
your tongue—the secret is
worth the most. it used to be hard
to tell what it is that i love: knowing
there will be a body in the bed
each morning, or that it is only
ever your body. maybe it has just
become too hard to imagine
anyone else. these little lies pile
up like spare change.

9/25/18

this is the best i have ever been
at loving anything. it has always
been a problem of too’s: too much
want for one body, too little focus.
but this, finally-equilibrium. to teach
children to stand one-legged, say:
pick a point in the distance, don’t
move your eyes. it was never not
knowing this trick it was just always
too hard to pick only one point.