kerosene-soaked bridges

The truth is, I know when I’m setting fires.

I watch myself light matches,

I let the smoke rise, I let the flames catch.

Knowing I should put it out.

Knowing I won’t even try.

Because I want to see what happens next.

Don’t burn your bridges, they say,

but I build mine of kerosene-soaked timber

and laugh as they are destroyed.

We can all pretend we don’t see it coming but

I do — I see — and I stand in the ashes when it’s over.

You can’t blame flames for destroying,

for consuming everything they touch.

Can’t blame me for standing transfixed

As pieces of my world break apart,

watching it fall into a storm-wrecked sea below.

Destruction fascinates.

Even though you won’t admit it,

even whispered to yourself in a dark room,

even when consequences hang in the air all around you.

You know it — you feel it — you see it all the time.

The twisted metal of a car you weren’t in.

Clothes ripped in half, because taking it off was taking too long.

The shadow-pain you feel when pressing on a bruise.

Glass shattering into a fragile spiderweb.

You can’t look away.

You want to.

I don’t.

I know I’m causing destruction,

I just like to watch.

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Guest Writer: Sidney Allen Quaid

Relationships are like winging a recipe.

You know they should be healthy, so you reach for whole wheat flour.

You know they should be sweet, so you add some sugar.

But if you put in salt by mistake, you can’t take it out. You can’t take anything out once it’s in the bowl. You can only keep adding to it until you can’t taste the salt anymore.

But sometimes, nothing you add can drown out what’s been put in. You’re stuck adding things one after another until it becomes a total mess.

Sometimes the only way to get rid of the bitterness in your batter is to throw it away.

-Sidney Allen Quaid

libraries

step into my office and

see how our stories live,

not interconnected webs

but unique entities,

rows of mismatched novels

lining mahogany shelves.

circumstance alters which shelf we sit upon,

whose covers rest against our skin,

how intimately we let them touch us.

you can build a book together,

you will hold chapters of other names,

you will contain multitudes,

but other stories do not become yours

you do not become theirs.

go somewhere new and suddenly

your shelf shifts,

tipping you into a pile of strangers

all touching, piled around,

but not becoming, not intertwining.

and then your cover slips, for just a moment,

and you allow them to read some pages

not those ones

just a few here and there,

let them see the parts you like best,

close it again before they see too much.

sometimes you rest against

a story, a shelf, a life

that changes the rest of yours.

but they do not have the power

they do not have you

you have not become one another.

touch them, witness their lives,

let them read yours

until you can’t make eye contact anymore

and know

know

that you are a story, a life

a complete entity.

and know beyond doubt that

even

broken,

you

are

whole.

I Didn’t Want To

I said the words.
I didn’t want to.
I dragged the words up
from the pit in my stomach,
fighting them, pushing them away from me.
The first time I said it, the story collided
with the horror, the empathy,
the well-intentioned pity
on the face of a friend.
You have to tell it again, she said,
you
have
to
make
him
pay.
So I said the words.
I didn’t want to.
I stared at perfect creases
in dark blue uniforms
and vomited the words again and again.
Bright white flashes in a cold room,
photos of the ink-like stains on my skin.
Cold metal under my fingernails,
dry cotton inside my cheek,
sterile fingers pulling at my hair,
taking more pieces of me.
You have to tell it again, they said,
you
have
to
be
strong
now.

 

So I said the words.
I didn’t want to.
A suit and tie I’d never met
asked for details no one would remember
but I tried, I tried, I tried.
I watched his furious scribbling
and, knowing the stakes, recalled
every single hurt that I could.
My hands suffered from aftershocks
so I hid them, clenched in my lap,
burying my shame and weakness.
You have to tell it again, the suit said,
you
have
to
prove
it
happened.
So I said the words.
I didn’t want to.
Everyone rose for a man in black robes
and we began their war of credibility.
He’s there, right there, at the corners of my vision
and suddenly my skin is made of glass,
ready to shatter if anyone presses too hard —
they’re all pressing too hard — this is all too hard —
I just want to go home.
Their questions imply things of me,
Asked-for-it / deserved-it / wanted-it / liked-it.
I feel their words pouring over me,
try not to breathe them in,
hope that I can reach the shore before I drown.
I tread water for hours, days, a week,
Before a dozen strangers come back.
You have to say it again, said the man in robes.

Guilty
Guilty
Guilty
Guilty
Guilty
Guilty
“GUILTY.”

They said a word.
They heard all of my words
and gave me back just one,
and that word was supposed to give me more,
give back the pieces of myself that I lost.
But my stomach feels empty without that pit in it.
What now?
The chains tethering me to that moment
have finally been unlocked;
I don’t have to tell it again.
There’s no one left to make me say the words.
So I wonder:
was
saying
the
words
worth
it?

…..let me

Let me complicate you.

Let me breathe smoke into your lips,
and feel it as your tongue touches poison.
Let me snap the padlock of your standards,
cross the line, invade you, change the way you see.
Let me draw a blade along your spine,
watch the bloody dewdrops march along behind.
Let me ruin sex for you, forever,
because you can’t let go unless you might die from it.
Let my eyes whisper sins,
and awaken the dragon who sleeps inside you.
Let my hands paint a story,
overlapping circles of black and blue.
Let me take an axe to your ethics
and revel in the purity of destruction.
Let me light a match and touch it to your skin,
see you feel the sting and the surprise.
Let me feel it when your boundaries bend,
when you touch, even knowing you shouldn’t.
Let me take you to forbidden places,
where backs arch but you have to stay quiet.
Let me watch as you realize
there are bells you can’t unring.

Let me complicate you.

 

 

Brace For Impact

They are flying.

Forty feet between their shoes and the ground.

They feel so free.

How funny, then, that all that stops their freefall is a cage.

Metal grates that are painted black but never quiet.

Footsteps vibrate the length of the paths.

Unless, like they have, you’ve learned to step softly.

He stands behind her, has her bent over the railing.

Their silhouettes merge and separate and merge again.

A sound escapes her and his hand covers her mouth.

Their shapes move faster.

The metal grates shift beneath them. Neither cares.

Faster.

They can hear others, down below. It adds to the high.

Faster.

She cries out against his fingers.

He slides his hands to her throat, gripping, still moving against her.

Her hands curl around the rail.

He gives a quick shout, releases her.

The two shadows separate for a moment as they dress.

He steps forward, whispers something against her ear.

Then he shoves her as hard as he can.

He watches her tumble over the rail.

Forty feet, he thinks.

Brace for impact.

this game called “when we catch fire”

I’ve heard people say that it’s awful watching an ex be happy with someone else, especially when you’re miserable yourself. But I wonder if it’s worse when the opposite is true.

What’s worse: Watching someone you love be happy with someone else, while you’re miserable? Or watching them be miserable with someone else, while you’re happy?
I don’t have an answer for that. I guess it depends on how much you loved them. Or rather, what kind of love you felt for them. Whether you subscribe to “true love comes once in a lifetime,” or if you’re more into “if you love something, set it free.”

I set you free. You ended things, and I made it simple for you to walk away. I didn’t fight you, I didn’t stop you, I didn’t cry and guilt-trip and complain. It hurt like hell, but I made damn sure you’d closed the front door behind you before I let any tears fall. Because I knew you believed it was what you wanted — and I probably knew, even then, that we weren’t right for each other. Not in the ways that mattered, not enough for forever. Love, ultimately, wasn’t going to be enough to save us in the end — whenever the end came for us. Sometimes the hardest thing and the right thing are the same, after all.

Fast-forward four years. It took me a long time to get past it, past you. Arguably, in some ways, I’m still not entirely over it — I admit a strong case can be made, given the fact that I’m writing this to you now. But now — four years after you walked out, after I went through hell and high water, through the literal hardest decision of my life — I can say I am, at the very least, at peace when it comes to you.

And here’s the crazy thing: I’m happy. Happier than I ever was with you, happier than I’ve ever been with anyone else. He challenges me, and makes me laugh, and pushes me to do better. It’s the first time I haven’t wanted to run. The first time it hasn’t terrified me to talk about the future. The first time I believe I have one.

But I still watch you,
(I loved you so much then that if you had asked, I’d have married you. It would have been a mistake, and it probably wouldn’t have lasted very long (that’s if we even made it to the altar, which I doubt more and more as I get older), but I would have said yes. I said yes to you even when I had doubts piling up around me like storm clouds, because I loved you too much to let them scare me away. Because I had fought too hard for you to let you go so easily)
and I don’t think you’re happy.

You left me, and six months later, you were engaged. Just like that. Ready to spend forever with someone else, after years with me. Years of “us.”

It broke me. I won’t lie to you because after everything you and I shared, you deserve better than lies. (You may deserve a few big ones just for the sake of balance, but I’ll resist the temptation). You broke my heart. I’ve never felt actual pain in my chest, never understood why they call it heartbreak, until you. Hearing you were getting married so fast hurt even worse than when you left. Of all the ways we’ve hurt each other over the years, that was the worst of it. That casual sentence, that flippant comment about your fiance when I didn’t even know you’d started dating again, broke me — in a lot of ways, for a long time. You’ll never understand how much. I’d never admit the extent of it.

But several months passed, and when I decided to remove you from my life for good, the farewell letter I wrote told you that I hoped you’d be happy. I wished you the best. And as much as I’ve gone back and forth about that sentiment since then — as many days as I spent full of hurt and anger, where I wanted to be vindictive and take that back — I can honestly say that I meant it. If you weren’t happy with me, I loved you enough to actually hope that you’d be happy with someone else. With this other woman, whoever she was.

So I still watch you.
Because I loved you once. Because your life and your happiness still matter to me, even if I’m not a part of either one anymore.
I check in on your life, now and again. I don’t contact you, I don’t intrude, I don’t even ask other people about you. I just check around, see what I can find, make a mental note of any major updates.
(Partially so that if I ever run into you, and you tell me these things, it won’t be the first I’m hearing of it and you won’t have to watch the emotion brewing in my eyes.)

Your engagement photos were the first place I saw it: you were uncomfortable.
In all those photos where you should have been huggy and kissy and all a-twitter with love, you looked…stuck. Like someone had asked you to pose in a photo with someone you barely knew. Like you didn’t know how to stand, or where to look, or what to do with your hands. When to hold her, how to look at her, where to touch her.
Some of that was just you; you always hated photos. But it got me wondering. It’s the first time I questioned that maybe you chose the wrong woman….again.

I wasn’t right for you either, I know that now. But we talked about getting married often enough that I knew what you wanted. We agreed on an old beautiful barn, with exposed beams and hardwood floors. You wanted bare lightbulbs hung in strands across the beams. Acoustic guitar and shoes kicked off, warm soft colors and everyone singing along to our first dance. Just the two of us, in a theatre of our own making — where, for one day, we’d been cast as the leads.

I saw your wedding photos. That was the second place I saw it, or rather, didn’t see it: I didn’t see your touch on anything. I saw stark white walls, floor-to-ceiling windows, crisp white tablecloths, shiny silver chairs — this buttoned-up, banquet-hall, country-club wedding. It looked flashy and expensive and cold, and you were nowhere. I didn’t see your warm lights, your soft comfortable colors, your hardwood floors. Your personality was strapped into an immaculate three-piece suit that someone chose for you, and I looked straight past you in all the photos because you weren’t even present. Someone took a cookie cutter to you and kept cutting pieces away until you fit. Until you were just the groom, irrelevant; just stand on your mark and pose. Your personality, your laughter, your warmth and charm, were invisible in that clean white spotlight.

Those pictures made me sad, but not for me. This time, I hurt for you. I wondered whether you were happy with your choice, or if you just wanted to be married so badly that the bride and the wedding and the photos didn’t even matter. Where was my laughing carpenter, full of bravado, who always smelled like sawdust, and smiled at me across rooms and winked? Where was the mischief and quirkiness that I used to know so well?
It was supposed to be the happiest day of your life — where was all your joy and anticipation?
I didn’t see you in any of your wedding photos, and it made me impossibly sad. I had hoped to see your smile again, the genuine one that started from your eyes.

When you bought your house, you were so excited to show me around. We walked through the back gate and around the yard and through the bedrooms. You kissed me in the kitchen and we watched Pulp Fiction on a mattress on the basement floor. We watched Blues Brothers curled up on the couch in the living room, and laid in your bed reading books late at night. We watched fireworks from your front steps and ate ice cream sitting by your garden in the backyard. You were building your man-cave in the basement, planting herbs in the garden out back, and getting a dog now that you had a fenced-in yard. You were so in love with it, every part of it. You said you wanted to spend forever in that house.

A month ago, you sold it.
I checked in on your life, expecting things to be the same, and saw it for a third time: the loss of you. Your house, I learned, isn’t yours. That house that you loved so much was just…..left empty.
I am that house. Loved, cherished, altered; then abandoned for something new. Part of you, loved by you….and then, all at once, not yours anymore. I felt the loss of that piece of you.
And I knew, the way you know from “hello” that a friend is upset, that it wasn’t your idea. I knew with every fiber of my being that someone else made that call. Maybe they even convinced you it was your idea. But I am absolutely certain that, isolated from outside influence, you wouldn’t have let it go.
I don’t know how many pieces of yourself you’d be willing to give up, for the sake of “happiness.”

I often wonder about your life, wonder if you’re okay. I hope you’re happy, even though that would hurt me too. But I would rather know you’re smiling somewhere, that everything you and I went through counted for something, that we both arrived at happiness somehow. If you’re miserable, I can’t — shouldn’t want to — save you. I can’t contact you, because I swore I wouldn’t. If you’re unhappy, it is of your own making, and there is nothing I could or should do to change that.

But the fact that I loved you for so long makes it hard to watch you be unhappy.

“that book which is my memory”

She wonders, now, if she knew all along.
Maybe she watched him dress in his lies
the same way he slid into his torn-up jeans,
equally comfortable in denim and deception.

She wonders if seeing him build things
made him look stronger, or more vulnerable.
Bricks upon bricks of carefully crafted words,
built into a wall, stamped with a love story.

She read that story on repeat, the poor fool.
Drank up every drop of smudged ink,
savored the subtle notes of doubt on her tongue,
felt the thrill of wandering so far from her path.

He poured her drinks so well,
tailored them just to her taste,
strong and harsh but never bitter,
foreshadowing at the bottom of every glass.

He sang the songs just right,
chose words she’d never admit wanting to hear,
pressing but never pushing,
stopping just short of too much.

He wrote things so beautifully,
black drops from the metal tip,
delicate flourishes across the page,
too wild to be bothered with their meaning.

On life he quoted from Hamlet,
on love he borrowed from Dante.
She wonders if that was when she really saw him,
her poet’s heart hearing truth in his choices.

For within romantic serenades,
she heard whispers of the phrases unsaid.
Bear our hearts in grief,
how apt, she thinks — a divine comedy indeed.

he promised.

It’s midnight.
I check the locks.
I turn off the lights.
I climb into bed.

I start the feel it, the loss of control.
I go to war the the anxiety; I use logic.
Everything is fine, you’re safe.
But he’s coming; he promised.

It’s 1 am.
I wake in a panic, a small noise somewhere.
That sound isn’t him, he doesn’t know how to find me anymore.
I get up and check the locks again.

I start to cry, can’t stop.
I whisper out loud to myself.
It was years ago; wipe your tears.
But he’s coming; he promised.

It’s 2 am.
I stare at the curtains, watch for every shifting shadow.
I jump at all the noises and lights.
I get up and check the locks again.

I give up and get out of bed.
I sit on the couch in the dark.
I listen for a knock, but there’s no sound.
But he’s coming; he promised.

It’s 3 am.
He’s still there in my head.
He is coming; he will find me. He promised.
I get up and check the locks again.

“You think you can ever escape? When you’re finally happy, when you think you’re free, I will hunt you down. I’ll find you wherever you are. I will destroy you. I promise you that.”

He promised.

the house that J built

I arrive at a farm house.
I recognize it, the way you do in dreams;
the house is yours now.
Familiar. Safe. Sunny.

(Really it’s the Westport house.
The twisted memories,
the realities of that house,
the dark cloud surrounding it,
aren’t present in this version.
Dreams are like that.)

I get out of the car with an overnight bag.
Sling it over my shoulder and greet you,
like we’ve done this a thousand times
and nothing about this is unusual.

(Really I never would have brought a bag,
in case someone showed up there
and I had to pretend
that we were just friends.
My belongings would have stayed in my car.
Hidden. Like us.)

You kiss me – quick, like nothing.
Like we’ll do it a million more times in our lives
and it’s so comfortable and natural
that it makes my chest hurt.

(Somewhere in my mind
I know that this is a dream
from which I will inevitably wake.
That this is one of the only moments I get to see you.
I know that this moment is precious and rare.
More rare with each year that passes.)

Each time I dream of you I wonder whether
it will be the last time I see you.
I know that the final dream is coming
and it makes me hopeful, and impossibly sad.