a ribcage drenched in dust

i have your ribcage, you said.
what should i put in it?

i told you i’d always wanted a fire,
the kind that would fill my eyes with starlight
and pump my blood full of passion, but

you’re made of wildflowers, you said.
a fire would burn you to ash.

you wanted to fill my chest with
the sound of a train, whistling
far away in the night;
with the sound of rain smacking leaves;
with the sound the wind makes
when it sounds like it’s trying to speak

and you wanted to throw in the
smell of midnight in august
and the feeling of sand being
sucked out from under your feet
when the ocean inhales,
and the strange little moment of
bittersweet joy you get when
someone else puts your soul into words
and you realize you’re not as alone as you thought.

i told you that if i had all that inside me,
i’d ache all the time
and you smiled a sad little smile,
because you already knew that ache.
because you were a writer, and you ached all the time.

i’ve got it, i said.
tell me a story. tell me the truest story you know.

and you brightened.
and leaned in.
and filled my ribcage with a story.

it was only three words long,
but it did the trick.

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a mistaken man

he used to tell her
that she was the sea trapped in a seashell –
pretty on the outside but powerful
and mysterious
and ineffable underneath.

he used to tell her that the ridges
on her spine
made moonlight shadows down her back
and the freckles across her collarbone told better stories
than any of his torn up beaten down books ever could.

he used to tell her that
she smiled like poetry and smelled like
a rainy october evening
that if he had the right hands he could
play her ribcage like a xylophone
that her swollen chewed up stained red lips
were the quintessence of lust.

he used to tell her
that her eyes were the color of mint and starlight
and that, sometimes, her hair
smelled like the garden
he used to hide in
when his daddy came home smelling like whiskey and sweat.

maybe he ran out of words,
or maybe he’s just trying to think of the right ones
or maybe he never meant it at all

but he doesn’t talk so much anymore.

the widow

she sits in a bathtub,
drenched in the warmth of late afternoon,
and wonders about love.

it is cliche.
it is also important.

her fingers slide along her
chest, counting the hidden scars.
seventeen that she can feel,
more that she can’t.
but that isn’t important,
not right now,
because she’s thinking about love.

it isn’t passion she remembers,
not fingernail scratches or gasps
or quiet suggestions that maybe
the slipper-socks should come off.
she doesn’t think about the secret smiles,
or the smell of cinnamon,
or even the voice saying i love you, you know
[because she did know].

she thinks about silence
about those moments in between breaths,
in between heartbeats,
in between words.
she thinks about how tangible
it was, how soft and warm and light
and then she thinks about the
silence that’s with her now,
the silence that’s seeping through
her pores,
splashing in her lungs,
hovering in her head.

she looks at the razor she’s been holding for an hour.
she looks at the paper-thin skin on her wrists.
she continues thinking.

it’s worse than silence, she decides.
it’s nothingness.
numbness.
emptiness.
silence is the absence of noise
and this is the absence of everything.

she never even cried.

her hand begins to tremble.
her muscles tense.

she can’t taste. she can’t feel. she
can’t hear anything and she can’t
see anything and she can’t
smell anything

except cinnamon.

she pauses.
frowns.
looks.
the shampoo bottle is still open,
the familiar smell drifting into the sunny room.
she looks away and her eyes settle on
a pair of slipper-socks,
unceremoniously thrown in the laundry pile.

slowly
she puts down the razor.
she drains the bath.
she wraps a towel around herself.
and she emerges from the bathroom
with seventeen scars and tears streaming down her face.

and that is important.

not quite synonymous, after all

maybe it should have been obvious
when you stopped staring at
me, your eyes crinkling
and shining
[maybe it would have been
more obvious
if you ever stared at me like
that to begin with]

maybe it should have been obvious
when i stopped holding
your hand
[because it’s too hot, i said
even though it was mid-october
and i was wearing goosebumps and a scarf]

maybe it should have been obvious
when you smiled too wide at the
waitress
and i didn’t even care
[because i trust you,
i told myself]

maybe it should have been obvious when,
all at once,
the silences became awkward and heavy and
we struggled to avoid them,
instead of letting them envelop us
[but maybe the silence
had never been nice;
it’s hard to remember]

but,
as things so often go,
it was only obvious
when it wasn’t obvious at all

because we ended with a snap
when we heard the word cartridge
[i thought ink
and you thought gun.]

the fine print of selling your soul

your lips taste burnt and look bloody
and your eyes are shattering
[earth-shattering
mind-shattering
heart-shattering]
and your lungs soak up
cigarette smoke like it’s
the softest breeze on a rainy day
and sometimes you start to feel
like you’re suffocating

and your fingers constantly trace
the sweat-stained, beer
stained, blood-stained
countertops
and you’re forever lit
by those dim, sickly yellow
bar lights
and the only thing that
will ever make your toes
curl and your heart race
is destruction
and sometimes people
will look into your perfect,
broken face
and know what you’ve done
and your heart will forever lust
after the piece of it that’s lost.

you’ve been duly warned.
sign on the dotted line.