and I loved her
I loved her fiercely.” —Ntozake Shange
i’m going to tattoo “i don’t want a serious relationship i just want to smooch” on my forehead
why does a photograph of miley cyrus drinking from a starbuck’s cup while she’s driving have over 4000 notes? why?
I have been flickering, off, on, off, on.” —Sylvia Plath, from Fever 103°
when you never had to pump your own gas,
I was the one who did it for you, the girl
who stepped out at the sound of a bell
with a blue rag in my hand, my hair pulled back
in a straight, unlovely ponytail.
This was before automatic shut-offs
and vapor seals, and once, while filling a tank,
I hit a bubble of trapped air and the gas
backed up, came arcing out of the hole
in a bright gold wave and soaked me—face, breasts,
belly and legs. And I had to hurry
back to the booth, the small employee bathroom
with the broken lock, to change my uniform,
peel the gas-soaked cloth from my skin
and wash myself in the sink.
Light-headed, scrubbed raw, I felt
pure and amazed—the way the amber gas
glazed my flesh, the searing,
subterranean pain of it, how my skin
shimmered and ached, glowed
like rainbowed oil on the pavement.
I was twenty. In a few weeks I would fall,
for the first time, in love, that man waiting
patiently in my future like a red leaf
on the sidewalk, the kind of beauty
that asks to be noticed. How was I to know
it would begin this way: every cell of my body
burning with a dangerous beauty, the air around me
a nimbus of light that would carry me
through the days, how when he found me,
weeks later, he would find me like that,
an ordinary woman who could rise
in flame, all he would have to do
is come close and touch me.” —Fast Gas, Dorianne Laux
on the same straw to see whose thirst was stronger,
but then I whiffed the crushed walnuts of your nape,
traced jackals in the snow-covered tombstones of your teeth.
I used to think love was a non-stop saxophone solo
in the lungs, till I hung with you like a pair of sneakers
from a phone line, and you promised to always smell
the rose in my kerosene. I used to think love was terminal
pelvic ballet, till you let me jog beside while you pedaled
all over hell on the menstrual bicycle, your tongue
ripping through my prairie like a tornado of paper cuts.
I used to think love was an old man smashing a mirror
over his knee, till you helped me carry the barbell
of my spirit back up the stairs after my car pirouetted
in the desert. You are my history book. I used to not believe
in fairy tales till I played the dunce in sheep’s clothing
and felt how perfectly your foot fit in the glass slipper
of my ass. But then duty wrapped its phone cord
around my ankle and yanked me across the continent.
And now there are three thousand miles between the u
and the s in esophagus. And being without you is like standing
at a cement-filled well with a roll of Yugoslavian nickels
and making a wish. Some days I miss you so much
I’d jump off the roof of your office building
just to catch a glimpse of you on the way down. I wish
we could trade left eyeballs, so we could always see
what the others see. But you’re here, I’m there,
and we have only words, a nightly phone call — one chance
to mix feelings into syllables and pour into the receiver,
hope they don’t disassemble in that calculus of wire.
And lately — with this whole war thing — the language machine
supporting it — I feel betrayed by the alphabet, like they’re
injecting strychnine into my vowels, infecting my consonants,
naming attack helicopters after shattered Indian tribes:
Apache, Blackhawk; and West Bank colonizers are settlers,
so Sharon is Davey Crockett, and Arafat: Geronimo,
and it’s the Wild West all over again. And I imagine Picasso
looking in a mirror, decorating his face in war paint,
washing his brushes in venom, and I think of Jenin
in all that rubble, and I feel like a Cyclops with two eyes,
like an anorexic with three mouths, like a scuba diver
in quicksand, like a shark with plastic vampire teeth,
like I’m the executioner’s fingernail trying to reason
with the hand. And I don’t know how to speak love
when the heart is a busted cup filling with spit and paste,
and the only sexual fantasy I have is busting
into the Pentagon with a bazooka-sized pen and blowing
open the minds of generals. And I comfort myself
with the thought that we’ll name our first child Jenin,
and her middle name will be Terezin, and we’ll teach her
how to glow in the dark, and how to swallow firecrackers,
and to never neglect the first straw, because no one
ever talks about the first straw, it’s always the last straw
that gets all the attention, but by then it’s way too late.
But look at you, darling—
I’m giving you two.
The first was a mess,
all crossed out words and
six different pens that ran out of ink
making words that I swore
I’d never let anyone see.
This time it’s different.
This time I’ve managed to get
the color of your heart just right—
an almost-blue that fades into white
at the center.
I imagine it beats something like four times a year,
ringing in the seasons and then falling silent until
another quarter of the year passes by.
The scary thing about time
is that you can’t ever recover from it.
It’s so easily lost
like spare change between the sofa cushions,
the ‘I love you’ on the phone that always manages
to get swallowed up in static
and all the words of the dead that never get written down;
how all the spare paper in the world wouldn’t be enough to shape
their decayed vocal chords.
So it’s easy to take this for granted,
to take time and cradle it, you, in my arms
like a newborn or the book I just purchased
where I imagine your name in place of the hero’s
more times than I even care to count
and making you out to be someone who’s going to save me,
like any of us ever choose to be someone else’s savior
when we can’t even look at ourselves properly in the mirror.
I’d like to think that you’ll surprise me,
but I know we both know how I’ll choose to bury you.
I’ll end up writing about you in letters to my grandchildren and
tell them all about the man with the seasonal heart
and how his heartbeat, for me, was the album of the year.
Maybe that will be enough to save me in the end:
a selection of songs that I can sing along to,
that can be memorized by heart.” —The Poem I Forgot to Write, Kristina H.
- Interviewer: Okay. Which designers do you prefer?
- Hillary Clinton: What designers of clothes?
- Interviewer: Yes.
- Hillary Clinton: Would you ever ask a man that question?
- Interviewer: Probably not. Probably not.