They used to think the center of the solar system was the earth, back when scientists knew nothing, and I believed them. You have arms longer than the circumference of the planet and I come alive like the sun every morning at your elbows. My doctor used to worry I would go blind from all the light in my irises but I am still here, blue-eyed and blinking, black-blistered heels still strolling along the desert-red path of your bicep.
They—whoever “they” are—think eagles and dragons would have had the same mating selection pattern, that great majestic dive towards the ground, plunging and fucking as they free-fall in love. We had sex for the first time on your couch and when I told my mother I said you gave me water afterwards and laughed at all my jokes. My wingspan was twice as small as yours and I can still remember how out of one eye I could see your shoulder muscle, glowing like a curled fist after a fight, and out of the other your bright red thumb making cave drawings on the walls of our cracking home. My mouth tasted like cotton and you looked so good I wanted to fall with you to earth.
You leave me to spend time in the curve of another girl’s back. She has eyes like two moons in between skyline strips of eyeliner. I think that I am stuck here, static, thrown out of orbit. In the evenings I count my fingers and check if they’re all there. They say that love is a sacrifice but all I can see is bloodied palms from how often I pull myself up from the rocky cliffs of your back.
Every morning I drink a full bowl of milk and listen to the girls who live down the hall screaming. I can’t tell if they are in pain or happiness but I am quietly choking on both in the kitchen. Some days I think I was born in three dimensions just like everyone else, and it is more frightening than the alternative.
If you still believe the scientists, let me tell you: really, the sex is nothing like they say. Every horny and lonely animal struggles to fuck and not be fucked, and it is claws and beaks and loose feathers, and nobody sees, or else nobody tells anyone else what they saw.
The last time I was with you, you were wearing dark jean pants and you wrapped your long, long arms around me and asked me to give you the truth. Well here it is:
I have pressed my heart into the hands of every person I know and all of them have given it back. I have kissed white whales and touched the ocean’s wide body when it was the deepest, most frightening blue I have ever seen. I wrote this poem with my left hand and edited it with my right, and I can throw it away with both if I want to. Self-love isn’t a process, it’s a solar system, expanding and shrinking at the same time, with or without the Earth’s permission. I am still unlearning and relearning what is real, but the universe is a tactile piece of cloth that changes texture every century, and even scientists will admit that through their telescopes they’ve seen God’s grandmother’s hands holding the fringed edges and repositioning her knitting needles. Everything goes on.
The truth is this: I am the sun. I am as big as a million of you and one day I will open up and swallow you whole, and everything will keep going on.”
In January I wake up and see
ten thousand birds glittering black against the ugly cauliflower sky.
I used to dream about tying ropes around their bodies
and being carried away—to Florida, Mexico,
and all the other warm places I’d read about in books.
When you’re born in winter like I am, you learn
how to force spring flowers to grow from your nail beds.
You learn to wave them at people like an apology.
You are a homeless wind trying to touch everything
and anything you can get your city-blue fingers on, but
nobody loves the cold.
On mornings like these
I want to pull the sun from the sky and wear it
around my neck like an amulet to keep myself warm, but
at nighttime I am still only a vague star, clutching no constellation,
disappearing cleanly in the haze of city life.
There are days when my mouth is never wet.
On days like this every cup of yellow tea tastes
like the cough drops my father used to give me when I got sick,
and every ice-covered sidewalk gives me nightmares
from when I saw my sister sprawled, purple and bleeding,
screaming about a broken wrist. Janus is the Roman God of the doorway,
and like him I have never
been able to cross a threshold without checking over my shoulder
every step. On Sundays I walk empty cobblestone streets,
listen to men of God give sermons in Dutch,
and feel the bells quiver like rattle snakes
stretched through my bones.
The truth is: recovery is an ever-evolving process.
Last night I clipped each daisy from my cuticles and pinned them
upside down on the wall by the end of their tender stems:
I am done growing flowers for other people.
My shoulders may never be the kind of hard-packed earth
from which daffodils sprout like beginnings,
but I know my arms are hard-wood
tree branch limbs,
still standing when all the leaves are gone,
where the birds sit
when they need to rest on their long migration south.
I am not a bitter northern wind—
I am a fire glowing in a little brick house, I am homemade
kitchen soup on someone’s spoon, I am my mother’s favorite mug
she always uses for hot chocolate in the evenings,
and I was born on the one day in January that is still
At dawn we pull you from the ruins of Athena’s punishment
into our laps, knowing you will wake up dizzy.
The newborn snakes kiss your cheeks, whispering,
good morning, hello, we are part of each other now,
and we will love you because we too have venom.
Poseidon’s handprints are still wet and red on the meat
of your hips, but we take you home and wash
them away as you wail in the bathtub, broken and thin
right-angle limbs shivering and once-apple-blossom cheeks
growing greener by the minute. When you realize
you have brass-skinned hands, you will scream
and every man within two miles will drop dead.
Polish them until you can (almost) see your reflection. This
is the same metal warrior’s shields are made from, grown
into your cuticles. Self-defense is a snarl
embedded into your scaled shoulders, prickling
at the sound of every horse’s hooves.
The first time you pull out dead snakes from your
scalp it will shock you. Kiss them on their fork-tongued
mouths goodbye and remember your gallery
of stone-faced men who thought loving
(or killing) you would be easy.
We know you will hear the whispers.
Athena will tell everyone you were a wild tempest over the ocean
that needed taming, but the truth is Poseidon threw
you into the temple, his virility glittering like sun on water,
your mouth the most beautiful blossom of dusk he had ever seen.
She had to punish somebody and it couldn’t be him.
You will be a star trembling towards explosion
and you will hurt every second. When you need to,
steal glances at people just to watch them crumble.
Little sister, we are here to help you stop being
so afraid. The savageness of mortality is a whimper
on the cusp of your sharpened teeth, but your
pomegranate eyes are every weapon you will ever need.
Paint sun-boiled rage over your lips until your smile
is as sinister as Poseidon’s hands, as sharp as the sword
on Athena’s hip. Together they made your body
a screaming battleground; we are here to help you
destroy with it.
You were born inside the mouth
of the last dinosaur. That’s why
you can’t ever move your hands without
time and space shaking. Beginnings
burst from your nail beds like
like bouquets of baby’s breath stars. Sometimes
it makes your hands feel like they’re on fire.
You ripped your favorite pair of jeans today, across
the knee. It looked like a crack in time,
and reminded you of your lover’s wide, smiling mouth.
For the last 230 million years, you’ve been worrying about
how many fossils we bury every day
and thinking about how the youngest person on earth
was just born right now, and how the Big Bang is
still supposedly going on. Some scientists think
the planets are moving slowly away from each other
and the universe is being torn apart and put together at the same time.
This is why infinity scares you, because it means
what they say about how the world will keep turning is
so frighteningly and gloriously questionable.
Those terrible lizards who
stormed the world all those years ago made nests
and laid eggs and had families too; you think about this
every time you go home and lay in your mother’s bed,
or hear her in the kitchen crying. All you know
for certain is that every human touch
is part of a slow, steady movement forward,
and you will do everything you can to patch the universe together
every time you see a crack.
Once you told me
there was gold inside my gums
so I pulled out all my teeth and sucked
the pink flesh until it was dry.
The next day, in the morning, I shaved off my lipstick
with a wet razor, because,
you were right,
I didn’t need the compliments, and
your kisses were enough to cover
my whole mouth anyways.
One night, far down the line,
after I had lobbed
my tongue clean off and chipped away
at my throat a little each day,
I found myself curled up readily
like a ribbon on a birthday present, coiling
as you pressed the edge
of the scissors against
my glittering skin and dragged your thumb
across the blade,
taped me on top and showed me off
to all your friends at the party;
and in the holes
in my gums I buried my voice.
My teeth, decaying, festered
inside the box.
pull your smile across your wooden teeth.
tell everyone you are doing well.
try not to feel the stones
you devoured earlier clanking around in your belly.
try not to think about the way each swallow felt like success
even as they tore open your esophagus.
hold yourself together like your mother taught you,
the way humans never let themselves be messy.
do not apologize for yourself. second place
is where apologies go to drink themselves to shit,
and to forget why they needed to be said.
you and the apology are so alike sometimes.
you were so big you needed to be said viciously, like a scream, but
whisper things to your morning coffee mug
that you wouldn’t even tell God.
notice the splinters left behind on the rim
from your swollen lips.
put on your best lipstick.
tell everyone you are doing well.
your self worth is a painting,
forever in the making. you’ll have to color it
with your own spit, piss, and blood,
but you will never, ever stop coloring.
you are not the apology.
in the blood sport of
dog fighting the
dogs are trained through
starvation, abuse, isolation, and drugging. they say
this was how they domesticated the first wolves. I think
about Christmas evening how
his hand felt on my inner thigh and the way
eggnog can sometimes taste like poison,
someone else’s pulse can feel like a leash.
there were two other girls between me and the next
Labor Day weekend when
he asked me if I still
loved him and I said yes because I have never learned
how to say anything else to men. I know they kill the weaker ones,
by strangulation, drowning, hanging, electrocution, gunshots,
or sometimes they just use them as bait animals
to train the bigger dogs.
I remember reading magazines in his parlor and breathing
in the smell of his cologne and wondering
if I wore too much makeup because
he called me a slut on my next birthday and my mouth was
empty. I heard they tape
over the jaws of any dog they don’t want
to bite back, that they have a method for which one they want
to die first.
nobody knows where
it really started. religion or sport or
the time when all countries
were third world,
maybe. all I know is I have never known
if my breasts were the right size or how
to properly chew through a muzzle.
An eagle can kill a young deer and fly away with it,
or so you told me when we started
out that Saturday night and wondered quietly
who would fly away with who.
When snakes are born with
two heads they fight
each other for food and the first time
you told me you loved me I cried
and felt bites
along my shoulders and thought maybe
you and I
were two heads on the same body
and didn’t know how to find love without
hurting each other to get to it.
The science of kissing is called philematology but we
are both writers and Charlie Brown’s father
was a barber which is maybe why
he has almost no hair
because nobody is really
a scientist unless they have something to practice with first.
Maybe this is why I write
so much poetry about facts
I don’t actually know the truth of and the way
your voice sounds pale gold in the morning
when you ask me what I dreamed about.
Sometimes I think about the way
1 in every 5,000 North American Lobsters are
born bright blue and how I chose one night to stay
up and drink more with you at your place and I have never thought
about any other sunrise so much in my life.
decide you no longer
like the taste
of your own
your tongue just to
your taste buds bursting.
sew the arms
to all your t-shirts
until you forget
what it’s like to hold
your lips on his lapel, then
washing out the
ketchup stains of
your lipstick. weep
angrily because you can feel
futility and masochism
inside you like carnations.
fall passionately out of it, since
you fell so
passionately into it.
do it justice. burn
the same way,
melt the same candles,
walk the opposite direction.
your heart is a lit match.
put it out with your own spit.
let your taste buds dry out one
The first thing you do when you meet a man is ask him
are you married?
If he is, he will teach you how to chew off
his wife’s hand until you can thread your tongue
through her wedding ring.
If he’s not, he’ll marry you.
When you wake up with a bloody stump
several calendar years and maybe some kids later, remember
the sweet, hard taste of silver and diamonds, and don’t blame her
for wanting it. He is a remarkable man
and you are all such lonely women
stealing each other’s fingerprints only to never leave