through struggle to the stars

before you were born,

you scraped per ardua

ad astra onto the inside of your collarbone,

and injected glowing nebulae

in between your vertebrae

because you always loved finding shapes

in star clouds

 

and on your longest days now,

when the heat wraps its loving arms around you

in an embrace you can’t escape,

and the sun lays salty beads across your skin,

you trace your collarbone absently

and draw a little strength out of your spine

 

and you’ll stoop a little more with each passing year,

but that’s okay.

it just means the star stuff did its job right.

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the boy with twelve bracelets

the cobwebs of your past cling

to the inside of your ribcage

and gently strangle your heart.

 

when i saw you for the first time

i had already known you for weeks,

taken part in your gorgeous

conversations and watched you spread

laughter like a perfect virus

among all the people you met.

you wore twelve bracelets,

six on each wrist;

once upon a time they served

to cover a mistake you made

when you were thirteen,

but it wasn’t a mistake now

so much as a story

about a boy who was brave enough to keep breathing,

and you kept the bracelets just because their memory annoyed you

when you took them off.

 

that was what you said, anyway.

then i learned how sure you were

that you were only pretending

to be brave.

 

you wore a mirror as a face,

silver and starlike,

molded to your features and well-rehearsed

in reflecting just what you

knew people wanted to see

 

and one night,

terrified of seeing nothing but myself

in you

[and greedy to see your face]

i smashed the mirror.

 

i expected you to scramble to pick up the pieces,

to yell,

to scream,

but you just stood there,

fully clothed and naked in front of me,

and for the first time you whispered about

those cobwebs in your chest,

how they were killing you slowly,

strangling you–

how your heart couldn’t beat right,

your lungs couldn’t breathe

 

so with guesswork in my eyes and hope on your face,

i told you differently.

i told you those cobwebs weren’t strangling you,

they were staunching your wounds–

filmy bits of cloth that beat off the scar tissue

whenever it tried to form,

keeping you forever alive

and forever dying.

 

broken glass crackled under my feet as i

pulled your lighter from your pocket

and placed it in your hand,

 

and, with the moon watching impassively,

you set your past alight.

your nails tore into my palm,

my shoulders,

my back,

as the infected bandages burned away,

and your wounds,

for the first time in six years,

bled.

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.

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.]

your own personal weeping angel

have you ever been in a

moment that already feels like a memory?

when everything is shimmering and easy,

suspended in time,

floating and hesitating and swollen with breath

 

and then you blink,

and it’s over

a memory after all.

 

i think every moment was

like that with you –

a series of memories that

i watched happen,

somehow trapped on the outside

perpetually present but never really there

 

and god how i tried

i tried to hold on to the moments

to hold my breath and

to never blink

i clung on to you and left marks with

my fingernails,

marks that fade every time i remember them

 

but you were always an other

an i love you and a wink and a smile

and the perfection blinded me,

i think,

because now i don’t want those memories.

i don’t want perfection and aching lungs and dry, pinpricky eyes

 

i want tears and yelling

and laughing until you might maybe be sobbing

and hours of nothing but silence and

the crinkle of paper

 

i want fingernail scratches on shoulder blades,

scratches that fade in the skin but burn in the memory and

i want pools of milky moonlight

settling in collarbones

 

i want eyes that can talk to me

from across the room

and lips that twist when they’re annoyed and

twitch when they’re witty and

tremble when they’re sad

 

i want a heart that knock

knock

knocks on its ribcage

and breath that mingles with mine.

 

i want mornings that are tired and cranky

with kisses all the same

and i want fingers twisted with mine and

moments that i get to be a part of

 

but mostly i just want nights.

those long, quiet, velvety nights

i want to be able to shut my eyes tight

and still hear that bird heart

knocking out a beatbeatbeat when

i wake up

 

because with you, i blinked

and it was over

a memory after all

 

and maybe you were perfect

but honey,

i can’t keep my eyes open forever.

hundredth time’s the charm

we left the cinders glowing

gently

a few fields back

and you still smell like smoke.

 

you reach into your jacket pocket,

looking for your cigarettes.

i wonder how long it will take

you to realize that i

hid them all.

[i don’t want you to get emphysema,

i whisper,

my worn-out anthem.

but this time you don’t swear or yell or groan

this time you laugh.]

 

there are fireflies drifting languidly by

on the breeze.

you wonder if any of them are from new orleans

you wonder if we could throw a floating lantern festival

you wonder if someday we’ll go to paris,

and put a love padlock on a bridge

[a best-friend-lock, you say].

i wonder if i still remember how to breathe

i wait for you to tease my voice out of me

to poke until i snap at you

but this time you don’t push

or pry

or tease.

 

when we get to my door

we stop

and i wait for you to smile your earth-shattering smile

to tweak my nose and say goodnight and leave

 

but this time

you don’t.

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