NPWM 1: “precipice”

National Poetry Writing Month | Prompt: “precipice”


the grey paint on the threshold of the door is peeling;

staring at it is easier than stepping over,

easier than admitting where I am and why,

easier than letting it sink in.

there’s just a screen door and no bell,

I stare at the black mesh and will it all to be a dream,

that maybe I’m not really here,

that I’ll wake up in my bed and roll my eyes at myself.

got a call from some detective with worried eyes;

now I’m in this brick building

dealing with things teenagers shouldn’t have to,

hoping this is the last time I’ll be here.

all the things he tells me

make it very clear this isn’t a dream,

even I wouldn’t imagine this up,

this disaster of a day that started so normal.

he says he’s sorry that he has to ask;

and I learn in quick succession

that adults cannot be trusted

and that no one ever really knows each other, do they?

I answer his questions;

I’m fine, nothing ever happened to me,

never knew anything was amiss

until his phone call.

“I don’t know what to do with this,”

I say, and I think he knows what I mean.

what to do with the knowing;

with the inability to un-know.

how to stand on the precipice of my life,

this exact moment of the Before and the After,

how to move across the doorway and

know I’m not the person I was an hour ago.

I’m sixteen and I was just excited

to use the car today;

now I know the drive doesn’t always take you

where you planned on going.

I Never Said

You didn’t know it, but I saw her coming;

saw you let it happen while pretending to resist.

Truth is you just liked the attention,

the dark Swan Queen performing just for you,

her talons digging into your skin like hooks.

Like Padme, I don’t know you anymore,

watching you run down paths I won’t follow,

seeing you tilt your phone away from me

when it lights up for you in ways I never did.

Hotel rooms lead to tears, don’t you know;

begging you to stroke her hair and tell her I’d be gone soon.

I knew she was Evey waking up in the dark,

watching you make her a special egg breakfast;

I knew none of the food was for me.

Our anniversary meal was a recipe she wrote,

in vino veritas, if only;

she was never as clever as Jane Foster

but I guess you like that in a girl.

I don’t speak Turkish so I guess I’ll resist 

the temptation to smash the cups

on my way out the door.

I never said I was a role model.

I saw her coming;

somehow, you didn’t see me leaving.


I don’t tell you 

the dark places his mind went
when my pulse beat beneath his fingers
how impossible it was to shut out the dark,
how death could make itself beautiful before his eyes,
how irresistible the temptation was for him
to slowly tighten his grip and watch my light fade.

I don’t tell you
the moment I knew beyond all doubt
that I could count the rest of the breaths I’d ever get,
that he’d kept the promises he’d made,
that everything had led to this ending,
and my guilt would never get the chance to eat me alive.

I don’t tell you
about the uniforms and the sirens,
all the pity in eyes I avoided, the look on the officer’s face,
how life turned all the sound back on at once,
how they had to drag my heart up from the bottom of the sea,
how overwhelming it felt to still exist
after looking The End in the eyes.

I don’t tell you
about the guilt I carried for years,
that I knew best, as usual
that I knew what I was doing, as usual
that I knew nothing at all, as usual
and it was nearly the end of me.


(after Blythe Baird)

Blame the boy you sat next to in English / the cop who took your number as a trade for no ticket /

the way you were brought up not to need anyone / the man who cut into your skin /

the color of your eyes / your professor who didn’t know the meaning of boundaries /

your weight and where it sits on your body / the boys on the bus in sixth grade /

the family member who slid his hand up your thigh / the length and color of your hair /

the man who followed you on your walk home / the boy who called you a cunt when you said no /

the boy who taught you not to say no / the fact that you think too much / your panic attacks /

the man who left you for being too cold / the man who left you for being too emotional /

your height / the rape defense course that taught you to scream “fire” instead of “help” /

your smile / the man who slapped you for being stupid /

the kid in eighth grade who pretended to like you so he could make fun of you afterward /

the fact that you never took therapy seriously / the way you hid your bruises /

the fact that you like sex / the fact that you’re traumatized by sex /

the boy who proposed while watching Saw / your anxiety / the song that was playing on the radio /

the jury trial where you listened to descriptions of rape all summer / the clothes you were wearing /

your taste in men / the time you were told you were too sexually aggressive /

the fact that you can’t sleep /

the fact that you can’t process emotions

until you’ve written them down.


I don’t want to compete with your trauma.
It’s not a contest I want to win,
so I smile and nod and sympathize
and swallow the bitterness of untold truths.

Live your truth, they say,
but fuck you, maybe I don’t want to.
I live IN my truth, or rather it lives inside me,
it survives deep in my chest
like a dragon I’m never quite brave enough to slay.

Every day I inhale my truth
and exhale my frustration that
I haven’t let go of it yet,
and sometimes
I do it
so fast
I get dizzy.

Speak your truth, they say,
But fuck you, maybe I can’t.
Maybe it’s been years and
I still can’t make the words come out
no matter how many times I try to write things down.

I don’t want to live my truth,
I don’t want to speak my truth,
I want to get as far away from it as possible.
I want to run until my muscles fail
and then ask for more space.

But aren’t you so free,
that you can chase after your truth,
that you’d want to,
that your truth is worth living.



We always said we’d celebrate this moment together
but here we are, ten years later,
somehow both strangers and deeply tied
but the promise means nothing now

Still, I’m raising my glass to you
because while we’re being honest,
if our love was an ocean
I finally understand why captains go down with their ships



I never told you:

I set fire to your hat.

After destroying all traces of you, there you were

crushed between long-lost umbrellas and old receipts

curled, inconspicuous, no screaming or blood.

Even so, at first I wouldn’t touch it;

there were too many ghosts in the fabric.

I finally moved it to my room, the closet;

shoved it to the back and hoped I’d forget.

But its heartbeat grew louder

until it was all I could hear

and I had to look it in the eyes.

It took a bright, hot, sunny afternoon

to chase away the chill of holding it.

It breathed whiskey and charcoal and paint thinner to me,

but probably didn’t to anyone else.

Your first kiss was entwined in the threads,

the last wound you left ran along the seam.



The key, I was told once,
is to play Iago…
and make them all love you.

Hero. Villain.
Good. Bad.

Perfect. Flawed.

Look at me,
right in the eyes
and tell me you aren’t both.

Well I’m the hero…..aren’t I?
(Are you?

So prove it, prove you’re the hero.
Make me believe you are flawless.
Tell me you meant well for every single action you’ve ever taken.

But then there are too many heroes,
this town ain’t big enough,

I can see it in your eyes,
in everyone’s:
the storm clouds of doubt roll in.

Am I the villain in someone’s story?
(Are you?

So prove it, prove you’re the villain.
Make me believe you’re broken and damned.
Tell me you wanted to destroy everything you’ve ever touched.

But then we’re all bad guys,
misery loves company,

So what to do, then,
with the vacillating emotions
of our own tell-tale pendulums?

The key is to play Iago,
and make them all love you
despite themselves.

Almost Love: Part 10

Half a year passes without him. We speak here and there, but never anything too meaningful. We see each other just once, and pretend we didn’t. I do what I always do with him — pretend it doesn’t affect me. Save my tears for when I get home.

Considering the number of times I walked away from him, with every intention of never coming back, it still feels like a knife to the chest to realize he walked away properly the first time he ever tried it. I’ve always known I loved him more than he loved me, but I don’t enjoy being proven right so casually.
He’s always been impossible to rid myself of; I’m heartbroken now that I’ve finally managed it. I think it’s because he managed it for me.

It’s been months, and yet I can’t let go of him. I don’t date and I don’t flirt, because somewhere in my mind I still hope he’ll come back through my front door, say it was all a mistake, a test, something. I’d be furious but I’d take him back. I hate this truth, but I know it’s real: I have never been able to turn him away. Not for long.

He writes me out of nowhere, on a rainy spring day. My heart painfully skips a beat when I see his name. I don’t want to read his words; I have a pit in my stomach. The smart thing would be to ignore it.
Haven’t you been paying attention? I’ve never been smart when it comes to him.

I read it and immediately regret doing so, because my damage has just begun.
My fiance, it says, which makes the rest of the message irrelevant.

Six months ago he was in my bed, so the word fiance clangs around my mind like an unwelcome guest, shaking things loose, rattling my teeth. There are alarm bells going off somewhere, an incessant wail telling me that I’ve always known, that I should have known better.

I don’t ask if it’s the Queen or someone else. Because that isn’t really the question I need answered, is it?
For once in my life, I protect myself from knowing any more about this than I already do. I sit motionless for a long moment, staring at his words.
His word, really. Only one of them matters.

Then I burst into tears.

It’s as if the dam finally breaks, and all those months of holding it together since he walked out the front door are suddenly collapsing. I cry until I make myself sick. I cry until my body is empty. Until everything feels numb. I want to tear my skin to shreds, just so something else will hurt more than this. I need something to distract me.

For days, weeks, there is nothing. No distractions. I am trapped in this perpetual nothingness; all I want is to sleep, and I can’t. I find myself unable to eat, and I can’t even articulate why. I cannot explain why this somehow hurts far more than everything else he’s done. I can’t express my turbulent emotions to anyone in a way that makes any sense. I feel held together by threads, and every tie I tie one off, another ten break. I feel like parts of me have fallen away, all the parts anyone could love, and I am some kind of hollow person.

It takes me months to decide how I should handle this. Eventually I do what I’ve always done: I write.
I gather my emotions, tuck them neatly away, and write him a letter. Notes to my Someday lover.

Ultimately, of course, it contains mostly lies. How I hope he will be happy; that even if I wasn’t who he wanted, I hope that she is. That all I want is for him to make the best choices he can for himself. That I enjoyed our time together, and that I will always care for him.

Yes, I understand that this is me, once again, putting him first. I can’t help it, don’t you see that yet? I’ve never been able to help it, with him.
I make this one final sacrifice, because I need a way to finally amputate the limb that is my love for him. So I lie, as I always have, to make him happy. So that he can feel peace about his decisions. So that he never believes, for an instant, that he has probably ruined most pieces of my heart for everyone who comes after. So he never knows that some parts of me will always be his, whether I want them to or not.

I drive to his house at night, wishing it were raining to match my mood. I sneak onto his front porch and leave the letter by his front door, stand for a long moment in the summer air, say an unintentional but necessary farewell to his house and all the memories it contains.

I drive away from his house, from him, from everything we were. As I drive I think about the end of my letter, the part I hope he remembers forever.

Goodbye, it says at the bottom.
I have decided that in this, at least, I should not say one thing when I mean another.


Almost Love: Part 9

I wake up warm, and surrounded by him. His scent is all over my sheets, on my skin, in my hair. I breathe him in whenever I can; having him here like this is still rare, though it shouldn’t be. We spend the early hours in bed, and then he leaves. It’s not enough time, and I protest, but he tells me he’s coming back this afternoon. Twice in one day, for us, is either exciting or ominous.

I am suddenly and inexplicably terrified that he drove home to get a ring.
I spend the day quietly panicking. “Afternoon” is much too vague a time slot for those of us who worry. Every time I check the parking lot, I hate myself a little more. His comings and goings should not impact my day; he has no idea how much they really do. I will never tell him.

When he returns, I hear him drop his wallet, keys, and phone on the counter; distinct sounds that I know by heart. I hate when he makes himself at home in my apartment. He’s already inhabiting so much room in my life that having him here sometimes feels like one too many concessions.

He spins my life into chaos whenever he’s in it, like a tornado I’m deeply in love with but ultimately will cause my destruction. The fact that I keep asking the tornado to come back is definitely a deep-seated psychological something, which I’m not keen to explore.

He comes into the room and sits next to me, and I feel my heartbeat pick up. I can’t tell if it’s hope, or fear, or both. I hope that he is, and isn’t, about to propose. I am ready and not ready. I am terrified and brave. I want him and I don’t deserve him. I deserve him and I don’t want him. I am panicking and endlessly calm. All of my emotions are on a collision course, and I no longer know what my face is doing.

What he says, though, makes all of those emotions hit an invisible wall.
“I’m not happy.”

Like a record scratch, my world stops. An eraser scrubs the chalkboard of my mind, and I become aware that my face is too open, so I close it. I experience a profound silence, in which I grasp for words and find none.
I have no thoughts. I have no emotions.
I am empty. I am quiet. I am still.
He hardly bothers to explain. A few sentences, evidently, is all I’m worth. He ends things faster than I knew anyone could. I went from being loved to being left, and I’m not processing things fast enough to understand why.

The longest silence I’ve ever experienced follows. I have nothing to say. My stupid mind is still thinking about him down on one knee, and it makes this awful moment exponentially worse. I eventually realize that I’ve been silent much too long, but it’s very clear that this is less a discussion and more an announcement; I understand that whatever I add, it will change nothing. Speaking now would make me appear weak, and I resist it as long as possible.

It’s the right moment for self-preservation, only I never learned that lesson, remember?

All I want is for him to be somewhere, anywhere else. I cannot be near him if I’m going to fall apart, and I recognize as though watching myself from a distance that collapse is probably imminent. It must be, though I feel nothing of it yet.

I go hunting for my voice, because it has run off somewhere, away from this place where everything hurts. It takes longer than it ever has for me to find it.
“You don’t have to stay here,” I say, hoping he doesn’t know what it costs me to say so.

He stands immediately, a tempest on a hair trigger, relieved to be released from my custody. I try not to think about how often he may have felt that before. He always said he felt like he was trapping me, but maybe I was the one putting him in a cage.
It’s not like I have any kind of gauge for normalcy.

He stands in the doorway for a moment. He apologizes, as if that will make a difference, but I don’t look at him. I want to remember those eyes loving me, not leaving me.
I hear the front door slam behind him. I momentarily consider getting up to lock it behind him, but I don’t. Maybe some part of me hopes he’ll come back. I desperately hope no one ever knows I’m so pathetic in this moment.

I realize, after hours of silence, that I’m still sitting where he left me. If I stay in this position, what happened won’t be real. If I move, the spell will break and reality will hit. I haven’t cried yet. I keep waiting for the tears but they aren’t there. I wonder if I care less than I thought, but my heart objects to this assessment as it shatters inside me.

I still love you, he writes later. I consider writing back, something in all capital letters, but decide against it. How do you love someone and also break them?
There are easier ways to say you don’t love someone than the way he chose.

Eventually, I fall asleep remembering how I woke up this morning.