Today is the day I told your father you exist
And the roses he gave me are wilting on the table
We are not ready
We are not ready
We are not ready
The roses are wilting and I am afraid
We will too
Today is the day I told your father you exist
And the roses he gave me are wilting on the table
We are not ready
We are not ready
We are not ready
The roses are wilting and I am afraid
We will too
The day I was born
he gave me the first name Morgan, sturdy and neutral
“fighter of the sea”
he gave me the middle name Freya, norse goddess of
love, beauty, war, and death
a seeker of thrills and pleasure, who carried herself
with strength and passion in plight
he declared to my mother, “honey, she will be a force to be reckoned with.”
I was three
the bathtub was full of bubbles and brothers and me and
they could pee into the toilet from the tubside, which
I couldn’t do
no one had ever told me I was different from them and I became
he yelled from outside the door, “honey, don’t let your brothers torment you.”
I was five or six
I stood painting at my easel in the garage where he worked and blurted
“I think blue is my favorite color but blue is for boys and pink is for girls,”
to which he responded, “honey,
colors belong to everybody.”
I was ten
we pulled into the driveway after school and I said I’d get the mail and
he watched me walk down to the mailboxes and back and then
he cried in the drivers seat for an hour and muttered “honey, some men like
little girls with ponytails who walk alone to get the mail
a little too much.”
I was fourteen
my body had become something womanly and unfamiliar and
well-hidden under my brother’s hand-me-downs,
my long hair shoveled into a beanie
I walked down the hallway from my bedroom and
he stopped me to say “honey, I don’t care if you like boys or girls or
purple aliens from Mars, as long as they treat you well and
you are happy.”
I was seventeen
a transgender girl had been allowed to become a girl scout and
it made the evening news
and my mom exclaimed “well. that’s. just. great.”
and he countered “honey, who are you to decide how someone is
connected to this earth?”
I silently cheered from the dinner table.
I was twenty
we were used to everyone else holding their breath when we talked because
when we talked it was fiery altercations
this week’s controversial topic: abortion
and he remarked “honey, I’m pro-life because I would never want you
to go through that”
my retort was “I never would- that’s my personal choice but other women
should be able to make that decision for themselves”
“yes, I think so, too”
“then you’re pro-choice”
I am twenty-four
my nomex uniform hangs in the open closet,
his name sewn onto my breast pocket
I smell the smoke he used to wear when he got home from work and
we all crawled into his lap
his voice carries over the phone, “honey, I am just
so proud of you.”
my father did not make me from lace and cursive writing and subordination
he made me from untied laces and carving initials into tree trunks and the innate cognizance
that I am anything but collateral
the day I was born
and he said, “honey, you will be a force to be reckoned with”
he was not wrong.
The bathroom fan was loud enough that you could hear it from where I was: still laying in bed, trying to shake off the anxiety I’d been carrying for days. The buzzing sound made me shiver, even though I was fully clothed under the duvet. He was awake and it was definitely time for me to get up. My head was aching with the need for morning coffee as I drug my feet across the carpet. He used to make me a pot before he left, but the buzzing of the fan had stopped and he was already out the door on his way to work by the time I wiped the crust from my eyes.
It had been months since I’d tried to make him love me again. I had stopped completely. As the fall turned to winter, my focus had turned onto myself, submerging myself into work and taking classes. Things I excelled at, things I felt rewarded for putting effort into, things I never had to be suspicious about. You put the work in, you get a good grade- simple as that. And that was what I desperately needed: simplicity.
With this in mind, I rose and dressed myself in neutral colors. Simple. I let my hair bounce down against my chin. Simple. I decided not to put on any makeup. Simple. Okay, I decided to put on a little makeup. I was still a girl that cared how she looked. Simple enough.
Alex had noticed I’d been putting on makeup the last couple of weeks. When he asked, I brushed him off with “I want to look nice at school- it makes me a better student.”
This was halfway true. The other half of the truth was that I wanted to feel somewhat seductive while making bedroom eyes at my English professor. Realistically, given the opportunity, I don’t believe I would cheat on my boyfriend. But Alex, a chronic cheater who had been the source of many devastating blows to our relationship, always had his radar on full blast and always made it a point to accuse me of the worst. This had become an almost daily occurrence that often ended with me storming off to someplace quiet like a library or a theatre and writing until my hand cramped before I returned solemnly to the home we shared and crawled into a bed that felt usually much too crowded. And since I’d started taking this English class, the crowdedness loomed over me like a willow tree over an innocent picnicker. Well, maybe not quite innocent.
The drive to campus was so heavy and full of thought, I only realized once I’d made it to the parking lot that I’d never turned on the stereo. Instead, the same quote had been on repeat in my head:
“Unable are the loved to die, for love is immortality.” – Emily Dickinson
These were the words written on the whiteboard on the first day of class in Ethan’s classroom. Love is immortality. I sighed, remembering that day. It was not love at first sight- I’m not even sure such a thing exists. No, he was average. Average height, average weight, even his hair color lied between blonde and brunette in a way that was less than extraordinary. He was extraordinarily average. He was not the kind of man you’d find in the ads of a magazine or modeling for the cover of a book. He was the kind of man whose words you’d find inside delicately printed onto the pages, filling the blank spaces of the paper and filling the blank spaces of your mind. I could think of a few other spaces he could fill for me. Cue the fantasies. Blood rushed to my face and warmed me as I walked through the frigid winter air to class.
I slid through the doorway as a swift wind caught my back and pushed me forward, slamming the door behind me. A few eyes glanced up at my not-so-graceful entrance and I pulled my bag up to climb the stairs. I always sat in the direct center of the risers. I had read somewhere that teachers are least likely to pay attention to students in this part of the seating arrangement, so at least in the beginning, I figured if I sat here and Ethan paid me any mind, then I might be worth noticing. It didn’t take long before my writing style and overwhelming effort in his class became noteworthy enough and I realized I didn’t actually have to try to be noticed. After a while, this had just become my spot and my passion for literature got me the attention I so craved.
Ethan sat on the far side of room reading from his computer screen. He had reiterated to us throughout the quarter that the best writers are those who read often. Not necessarily books, but anything, really. Reading a billboard, even, initiates enough creative thought to prompt the writing process. I admired him for reading whatever he was reading. It was easy to admire him but less easy to be polite about it. I stared at him for six minutes or so as he ran his fingers across his mouse pad, wishing to feel the same gentle touch across my body. Cue more fantasies.
Unable are the loved to die. The terrible thing was, Dickinson’s poem neither referred to being in love with someone who returned the feelings or unrequited love, but just love in general. Generalized love, if there is such a thing. And I could hardly call it generalized with the way it ran like blood through my veins and captivated every part of me. I innately knew that this was the kind of thing people write stories about. And I had no easy way of following through. With so much to still work out with Alex, I instead choked down the feelings as much as I could, but I was sure that, if Dickinson was right, Ethan was going to live forever. Simple.
I left dishes in the kitchen sink the way some people leave Christmas lights up into January
Spent too little time in the kitchen.
He called me messy,
called me inconsistent,
said “you are not enough homemaker to hold me together.”
I left dishes in the kitchen sink the way he left my heart in the doorjamb when he slammed it shut behind him.
Spent too little time chasing after him.
He called me later,
called me every night
said “I only said those things to hurt you, I still want to be together.”
I left dishes in the kitchen sink the way I leave people to play extras in the movie that is my life.
Spent too little time deciding it was over.
He called me monster,
called me psychotic,
said “you will never find someone with enough patience to piece you together.”
I left dishes in the kitchen sink
So he left me.
I did not stop him.
[written in 2011]
Let’s wish we could find a way to make coffee and fingernails sound poetic. I want to write about the paint on my clothes and the smell of smoke absorbed by my skin. The holes in the soles of my feet and the holes in my mind, but I can’t find a reason to write in the dark. It’s much scarier under beautiful stars when you realize you’re in a city, an alleyway of broken windows and broken hearts laid out neatly in the dust of dirty thoughts and suicides. There will come a day when Starbucks aprons are believed to be a sign that multiple gods exist in our atmosphere when Microsoft stops autocorrecting the I before E rule and “I” no longer needs to be capitalized like God does. I believe dead spirits that walk among us in the bodies of the depressed. Stumbling outside reality in a cloud of unhappy until they master a way to find artsiness in the darkness. They can hear themselves breathing, but can’t decide whether they should hold their breath in to retain life until it evaporates as nothing from their lungs or if it’s better to let white noises crawl under their skin until they’re crazy. The people here are crazy. Driven mad by stop signs and running through red lights until they’ve reached a destination of uneasiness. How he knows he never really loved her because the poetry he wrote when they were together was shit. We’re show-offs to cover insecurity. Cheering hard for losing baseball teams and avoiding ignorance. We never lose hope and that’s where our music comes from. The one thing we deserve to take pride in. That’s soul burning down our esophagus until it warms us in the depths of stomach acid. It took a lot of time on Google Images, searching for pictures of physical deformities to learn that not everyone is born with two eyes, not everyone is everyone else’s idea of human. Where we rip the seams in our rain jackets as an early weather forecast hoping the sun will peak through the clouds we’ve created with wrist pollution. Where we say “fuck” too much and “love” like it’s sacred. Where we believe pop cans and soda bottles and newspapers and microwave dinner boxes deserve a second life through recycling. We’re superstitious. We use eyes to see into souls and window reflections make us nervous with the anticipation of seeing someone we don’t want to look at, we don’t trust, so as a result some of us stop trusting in God. All we’ve known to have grasp of is the sidewalk in which we walk to reach places we’ve never been, but we never venture too far for that would mean chance of facing unacceptance and non-hipsters. We believe that wearing t-shirts with skulls on them makes us brave ‘cause it’s a scary thought that the only place you’ll ever feel safe is in the lap of your mother. So as Seattlites we search for Mother Nature in everything. We just want to be hopeful. We just want to be happy. We’re trying to find the light. Where social status is decided by how many rings are on your fingers and how clean your dreadlocks are. How much makeup can you go without and still be beautiful? Be organic. So we smile crooked-teeth and let our fingernails grow yellow between cigarettes as we say welcome to the city, welcome to Seattle. Here, we do art.
[written in 2013]
For anyone that’s ever met someone so handsome, you were too scared to touch him.
For the oil on your skin would surely ruin him. Already ink-stained collarbone to collarbone, bent to let your head rest.
And you touch his chest with the barrier of a sweat-soaked t-shirt: safe.
And you feel his heartbeat like it’s made of puppies: Labradors.
And you think this is wild, breathing like a creature hidden under his diaphragm, spreading his ribcage like open-heart surgeons might.
Like veterinarians might.
They baptized me in a pool of flames, igniting every nerve ending into letting me be my own person. And drowning me in the truth that one will never be as good as two.
While I see his body is a temple, he sees a city recovering from a harsh winter, peeling ice off the telephone wires where talons perch on their way south.
So when my coffee’s gone cold because I hesitated at its taste,
When tears reverberate down my jawline and my hair won’t get out of my eyes
When my toes break from dancing on the feelings of people around me and avoiding his contact
When I’ve sinned beyond all recognition of the little girl they once rocked to sleep
Because I know they baptized him in a pool of tea, too hot to swallow, too sweet to claim
But my fire burns hotter underneath his boiling figure with the fear of losing fuel- I need them to recognize my helper, my accelerant
So I will climb up the walls I was built in, char every room where I froze in bitter air during sleepless nights, wondering about the judgement of god
Craving arms to wrap around me like the ribbon on a gift
Tied to every love I faded out of, every guy that made fun of the way I pointed my hair dryer like pistol, every girl that tried to hang herself with her extensions and choked on acrylics, every daughter and every son that might inconveniently wake us up on a Saturday morning for breakfast.
It’s so romantic. But at times romanticism makes me feel like a cat stuffed into a hamster wheel. He’s like an eagle resting on a robin’s nest praying God bless you, undressed with the crest of a beating scarlet chest, pounding through every bound breast compressed to express that eagle confessed ownership of the beating scarlet chest of a robin. And you never woulda guessed by the way he speaks to me. So until I sprout wings, I’m wondering how far my feet can take me before I finally meet my soul mate.
And if he’s not comfortable with snuggling tonight, I’ll understand and then he’ll lend me an arm so I can rest my softened jawline against his bicep and watch him breathe. Staring at his mouth, soaked in his smirks, until I come to the conclusion that those are the curves that matter and he is the reason they call it a cupids bow. And the crease that parts his lips is shaped like wings. And I believe they’re gonna take me to heaven. They’ll save me. And I wonder if he’s thinking the same thing about me and I wonder if I have enough in me to save him and I wonder if he even needs saving.
So for anyone who’s ever questioned whether they start too many sentences with I. Or anyone who’s ever questioned if their pen ran out of ink or if the paper just stopped listening. Or anyone who’s ever questioned if they should go unspoken when they saw feathers poking through ace bandages yearning to stretch a beaten down wing. And every handhold with palm lines pressing until the creases all fit neatly together. For anyone who started believing that if god made anyone in his image- it’s this guy. Then maybe you’ve taken a risk. A chance. A flight… and found out it was worth it.
[I hate poems that rhyme]
He fell from the belly of the softest cloud
And landed gallantly at her arm
The heart in her chest never beat so loud
Never felt her face so warm
The man from the sky let his ridges go blunt
To prove he meant her no harm
But danger was undoubtedly a bet
Despite his ease and his charm
The greatest conflict ever known to the sun
Her holding the hand she’d been dealt
Is both the riskiest thing she’d ever done
And the safest she’d ever felt.
Dear Barista Girl,
I usually get home at 6:30 in the morning, tiptoeing from my SUV to my front door with my duffel bag and a coffee in hand. My neighbors all think I work the night shift. I do work the night shift. I also work the day shift. Sometimes I work 48 hours in a row. After that, I lose count.
You see, I live a double life. I am half emergency room technician, half firefighter. Often times I get off one 12-hour shift to go straight to another. Occasionally, I get to go home and sleep in the bed that I paid for. And sometimes, I stop for coffee in between. This morning, you were my barista.
There are some things nobody should ever have to see. I have seen a lot of them. Especially for someone who is less than a quarter-century old. I don’t talk about it often because there are still people who have seen far more than I have and the ones that haven’t don’t need to carry my burdens. But I’ve seen it. Husbands having heart attacks in the hospital room down the hall from where their wives died a month ago. Babies born fully intact, but too early to live. People so smashed in their cars that you can’t identify what body parts are what. Little kids not breathing with self-inflicted bruises around their necks. Gunshot wounds, chainsaw wounds, rabid animal bites… Between my two jobs, I perform CPR on someone roughly once a week. Some people like to throw out words like “hero” and “brave” and “strong,” but I am just another broken human drifting around the shadows of the world trying to keep other people afloat.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my jobs. I love them the same way you love yours. I just have days that make me feel the same way Frappy Hour makes you feel.
And I am tired. I am so tired. And my coworkers are so tired. And you… you are exorbitantly and wonderfully caffeinated. And this morning, as I sauntered into your workplace in a uniform that included red eyes, smoke-filled hair, saliva dried to the corners of my lips, and a mind filled heavy with replays of last night’s calls, I barely heard you cheerfully thank me for my service.
You looked so confused when I, very seriously, returned the thanks. So let me explain, Barista Girl. You are my hero. In this moment and in every moment in which my performance relies solely on how much coffee I’ve had that day. I believe just about every emergency responder will agree that you make a difference in the world so deep and you don’t even notice.
You fill our cups with the magic stuff that wakes us up, keeps us alert, and helps us work efficiently. You fill our cups after the 3am calls that didn’t turn out so great and help us wash down what we don’t want to remember. You fill our cups in the evening before drills where we practice over and over again so if we haven’t had our coffee before the real thing, our muscle memory will hopefully carry us through.
And I notice you. I know you’re on your feet all day trying to please the unpleasable. I know the smells of work follow you home and your apron has a permanent place in your passenger seat. I know you are probably overworked and, despite the number of espresso shots you sneak between customers, you go home tired just like the rest of us. But gosh, Barista Girl, with your unending smiles and wishful thinking and overall positivity, you just mean so much to me.
You are responsible for keeping the rest of us going. And that is a responsibility I can’t even fathom.
So I thank you for your service, Barista Girl. And my patients thank you for mine.
[written in 2009]
I am gonna scream loud enough to scare you. To make you cry, losing your breath, so maybe you’ll be in half the pain you put me through. And during that scream? You’ll listen. Tears bleeding from your widened eyes. You’re going to hear me.
I want to grab your frizzy burnt hair and use your face to flatten out the sand on the beaches along all of the Pacific Northwest where my ancestors fished before your people showed up. I want to take the knowledge you’ve tried to shove down my throat and pound it into my fist and use it to punch you in your throat. I want to build a fire. A giant bonfire. And dance around it like a savage shouting indistinguishables from the depths of my diaphragm.
I want you to call me uncivilized so I can snatch that word and throw it into your broken home with pictures of children who never come home where you do absolutely no work for no love and no life. I want your fake tan to turn to cancer while mine stays intact for years after one summer of sunlight without having to listen to you.
I want you to continue with your monthly hair dyes and thick black eyeliner- trying to mask yourself with something you ridicule. Something you will never be and only secretly wish you could be. Something I am. I want to rip out your tongue and dip it in a simmering pan of frybread oil so you can taste the sweet outcome of your people only giving my people four elements of corn, yeast, flour, and powdered milk. I want you to drown in the bottle of whiskey my people put in your hand every Friday night. I want you to choke the evaporations from the cigar you bought from my smoke shop.
I want to take a needle to your inflatable nose, since you say you can see Injun in mine. I want my blood to spill on your Abercrombie shirt and jeans and flip flops because you’ll never like me if part of me isn’t a stereotypical white girl.
I want your Marine husband to meet a beautiful Indian woman and not rape her for your satisfaction, but leave you for her Pocahontas lifestyle- but she’s not a real Disney Princess, according to you.
I want all of your freshmen students to see right through you. I want their hearts slashed alongside mine. I want the past to start all over and I want to be there to rob your great great grandfather of his pistol and use it to shoot him so you never existed. Actually, I want to use a bow and arrow.
I want there to be a reason for you to call me hostile, so let me give you one. And I want one more reason not to show up to history class today.
I am poetry scribbled on post-it notes littering your desktop.
I am campfire smoke soaked into curls tickling your chin
I am sprained backbone, stuttering at the microphone, forgetting my lines quite often.
And piles of books pushed into the shelf all summer
I am untuned piano keys that make beautiful music
I am the raging fire of a candle wick
I am a great story with a terrible ending
And I will always be too much for you.