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?

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…..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.

“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.

the price of pretending to be someone else

You wanted a quiet engagement
relaxing on the beach with a bottle of wine
gentle breezes and loving words
–but she wanted to shout it from the rooftops.

You hated how grandiose it was,
hand-holding and kissing
with her foot in the air,
how fake and how obvious the photos were
–but she wanted the photo shoot done.

I saw you in the engagement photos
looking uncomfortable
you didn’t seem to know where to stand or look
like no one taught you where to put your hands
and I hated her for it.

You hated yuppy clothes
because they made you feel uptight,
but she dressed you in argyle
clean slacks and shiny shoes
clean-shaven, not a hair out of place.

You wanted to wear shop clothes
torn up jeans splattered with paint
shirts with holes and ripped sleeves
hacked-up collars and smelling of sawdust
–but she didn’t like you that way.

I saw the ceremony photos
of you in a three-piece suit
and I barely recognized you
and I hated her for it.

You hated churches,
you called them stuffy and solemn
hated the incense and sing-song prayers
–but she chose the one you got married in
and you smiled at the altar anyway.

You wanted to get married in a barn
like a music video with acoustic guitar
dancing in warm light from exposed bulbs
because it reminded you of theatre lights
— but she wanted a country club.

I saw the wedding photos
of white walls and big glass windows
bright lights and expensive flowers
and I hated her for it.

I wonder if you told her
you hated that church
when she chose it for you both
for better or worse

queue

They’re at the door again,
waiting
in
a
line.

All the ones who caused damage.
They carry their particular cruelties
and wait for their turn.
There is no sound.

He’s first.
With his sweetness.
The one you had to break.
He carries the heartbreak you taught him.
He’d never felt it before you.
He brings you guilt.

He follows.
With his rage.
The one who broke your body.
He carries your blood, skin, tears, scars.
He loved to push your limits.
He brings you destruction.

He comes after.
With his carefree life.
The one who brought you to your knees.
He carries handcuffs, a ring, and your tattoo.
He loved to keep it casual.
He brings you false promises.

He’s last.
With his mystery.
The one who broke your heart.
He carries your tempestuous love.
He loved to keep you guessing.
He brings you sadness.

They all move past,
silent.
What you carry is so heavy.
Their gifts are yours to keep.

the collapse

There’s an inevitable moment that arrives
with everyone you’ve ever loved.
After all the late nights,
the phone calls,
a scroll of endless messages.
It comes after sharing secrets in the early hours
trading laughter and tears,
discussing joy and hate,
building each other up when they’re down,
loving their good days and caring on bad ones.

You give of yourself.
Your stories,
your fears,
your secret desires,
your nightmares,
everything you’ve lived through in a day.

Then it happens.
The collapse.
The words that can’t be unsaid.
The moment that can’t be taken back.

You feel it in your chest,
something breaks inside.
A hairline fracture in the tenuous connection
to the trust you’d held for them.

You’d gone against your instincts
(keep it to yourself,
you’re too damaged,
you’re broken,
they won’t be able to handle it,
just pretend to be whole),
reeled out your fears and love and trust,
wrapped them around this person who cared,
just to watch them cut the string
and feel yourself blown away
like dust in an icy breeze.

You did not deserve to be dismissed.

pulp fiction

We lie on a mattress in a dim basement
Light from the fireplace and a single bare bulb
There’s whiskey in glasses sitting on a milk crate
And two beat-up lawn chairs nearby.

There’s a movie playing against the wall
The hum from the projector’s fan behind us
Images dancing over our skin as we moved
Dust swirling in the darkened space.

And as we lay together with beads of sweat forming,
You talked about what you’d do with this room
About the corner you’d build just for me
So I could curl up and read while you worked.

We laughed and planned out this house together
The garden in the back, paint colors for the hall
Talked about making breakfast on each other’s birthdays
And where we’d put the Christmas tree.

And on that first weekend, we danced in every room
Made love between boxes, on floors and counters
Making sure we claimed each place as ours
And knowing we’d laugh at the memories.

I don’t laugh at the memories.
I just think about that house. Your house.
Her house.
My heart still calls it ours.

I chose the paint for that living room,
Bought the mugs in those kitchen cabinets.
And the curtains hanging in your bedroom
Were to block the morning light at my request.

I helped build the fence around that backyard
And I planted the flowers by those front steps.
I talked you into moving your couch
And helped you pick out that coffee table.

I wonder whether you think of me.
When you decide where to put up your Christmas tree.
When you look at the kitchen counter you lifted me onto.
When you see those flowers bloom.
When you work in the basement by the light of that bulb.
I wonder whether you ever think of your house as ours.