former self

three hours spent fighting off thin-stretched sleep,
in another life i was cervantes’s knight errant tilting
at windmills and millstones for the sake
of maidens and honor and the days of yore.
i dream awake because sleep is for the
dead. i only care for dawn-breaking, waking
reality. tales of my deeds will be recorded and
transcribed for generations to come, translated
into newly-fashioned languages we can’t yet imagine.
by god sancho i’ll be remembered the way i am
now—alive with my steed and lance with the sun
setting over the hills and saffron fields and vineyards
of la mancha. those who still call me alonso quixano
will find they were wrong when word spreads of my
valiant quests and when the history books tell of don quixote
de la mancha and the name of my former self is forgotten.
sleep sancho, i’ll keep watch. giants roam these plains.

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exodus

i killed and buried a man
for beating a slave until he was
more dust than man.
they will rip my half heart from
my chest for what i’ve done—i run
to a hollow in an ashen mound far from
egypt where mother sits on a silver-grey
throne of earth. hello basket, she says to me.
i tell her I’m no longer a basket i sprouted
dusty arms and legs and a head and a half-
heart stronger than most. she rises from her
throne, long grey hair lifted behind her by
the wind in the hollow and she presses her
fingers deep into my cheek and pulls at a
woven flax thread behind my throat that
forces my arms to bend into
themselves at the elbow, then at the shoulder.
i feel my chest thin and my skin tighten and
separate into strands of coarse reeds. i am
concave and covered in black tar, dangling in
mother’s firm hand by my handle arching above and
around my cradled vacant space. moses, she says.
you may no longer drift on the wind of the nile but
will always be a basket to me. now i weep because i
had forgotten what it’s like to be made of tar
and reed with an empty space resting in between.
don’t cry, basket, mother says. you’ll need to be
brave to free the slaves. now she takes ash in her hands
ad creates a mulberry twig consumed by fire. now
she places it in me and it burns a hole
where my half-heart used to be.

the fall

Mother tells us to only eat the bitter

fruit of life but knowledge tastes

better, i feel it warm and heavy

inside me. man feels it too, smooth

and sweet on his tongue. i remember

a world before i woke and saw you, Mother,

long grey hair lifted behind you in the wind,

hands cupping my cheeks. before you left

me alone in cathedral where i shaped a

companion from fertile ash and took half

my heart from my chest and plunged it

into his. (he woke and called me, not daughter,

but woman and i called him man because he

came from me.)

Mother, i remember you not so different

from us. only you never had to stand to

be dust. i was born fully-formed, i never

suckled your breast, never fed from your flesh.

Mother, Mother, don’t cast us from our home! did you

lie to us that you love us, Mother? is our

sweet-tasting sin so severe? the devil got to us

Mother, he’s in me now, kicking me open, open

wide from inside. i think i might split apart.

my half-heart is too frail. tell me,

Mother, why does man feel nothing?

creation myth

my world is fine ash,
kicked up by sure
footfalls. ash upward rising
like steam
from leaves after rain
into a crisp sky, blue
like water.
i want someone’s bleached
dry skeleton to hold or rubble
to shelter me in the cold, or
memories of
of something called home.
so I exhale a final breath
of smoke from a long since
spent fire and I collect a lump
of dusty ash in my hands to mold
it into the only shape I know. I call
her friend. she blinks she smiles
she calls me mother. I form ashen
walls around her. here are buttresses,
here are towers, here are gates. I call
this cathedral. beyond its gates I take
ash in my hands again and I dig
on my knees long and deep, here
all burned carbon scooped up and held
by me squirms to life
I call this animal. I call
this insect. I dig for many years. friend
cries to me alone in cathedral. I dig
until my hands turn black and
the empty space outweighs ash.
I take a step back and I call this ocean.

Living Things

I recently turned twenty-five. A quarter of a century. My face is weathered. I can grow a beard in places I couldn’t a few years ago. I have less pimples. More sunspots. I used to have dimples. Now I have creases when I smile. Soon I’ll have wrinkles, though, I’d rather die young.


The average brain of a human male isn’t fully mature until age twenty-eight. That’s the precipice—where my cells will start dying at a faster rate than they’re replaced and I’ll burn up in all the rage, love, and beauty of my young adulthood like Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, Jimi Hendrix. I can be a martyr for whatever cause those I leave behind can find to attach to my life. Youth is wasted on the young. I read that somewhere. I wonder if they’ll say that about me.


I used to be a stock clerk at the grocery store and once or twice when I was facing the cleaning products I considered popping off the sturdy safety cap of a bottle of Liquid Plumr downing the every last drop of the sharp syrupy acid. But I’m not so flippant about life anymore. I’m even a vegetarian now.


I like wandering the broad aisles of the grocery store at night. Picking up shapes, memorizing their edges and curves and putting them back. One night I bought a Himalayan salt lamp for 14.87 plus tax and the air in my apartment has never been more oxygenated. Another night I bought a goldfish with a tank, water filter, pebbles, a ceramic villa, and plastic kelp—less than forty dollars all together. The fish died a few days later because I over-fed it but I still keep the tank full and the water filter running because that also oxygenates the air and I like the air-to-water sound of it.


I live in a tall duplex on the main stretch of my town. I live in the left unit; my landlord lives in the right. If I don’t mow the lawn or rake the leaves on my side of the yard, he threatens to evict me. If I make the smoke alarm go off or turn my TV volume up too high, he threatens to evict me. If I have too many friends over. If he suspects I’ve been smoking in the unit and not on the porch. If he peeks through the entryway window and sees a certain level of clutter on the floor. And so on.


My name is on the lease, but my girlfriend, Emma, and I moved in to the duplex together. When our eyes were all pupils and white picket fences symbolized something besides words like “confine.” Normally she’s home from work curled in the caddy-cornered chair watching a show or peering at her phone. When I think of her I see evening incandescence with a digital glaze, I smell coriander and vanilla sage. But Emma went back to her ex again. This is something she does. It’s been over three weeks this time. Half the furniture isn’t mine. Half the movies. Half the wall art. Half the kitchenware. Half the bedsheets. Half the bath towels. I wonder what the place would look like with a chair and no couch, a bare hardwood floor with no area rugs, bare walls with no paintings from HomeGoods, a computer with no desk, a tv stand with no tv. I don’t have to think about these things when we’re together.


Darkness is the absence of light. Death is the absence of life. Space is the absence of anything. But I don’t like to think about it like that.


I forget the name of her ex. She’ll tell me about him sometimes. I won’t ask about him, but she’ll start talking and I’ll listen. “He was too good for me,” she’ll say. “He’d tell me all the time how he wishes he didn’t love me. And I’d tell him how I wish I did.” Then she’ll look at me in this way and say, “Sometimes I wonder though.” I don’t know why she doesn’t stay with him. He’s beautiful, has a good job. He drives a Lexus. A new Lexus, L-series. I find things like that attractive in men. He can afford a flashy sportscar—a Corvette Stingray or a Maserati. But he drives a Lexus. I think that’s classy. I lied earlier about not remembering his name. His name is Darren Yate.


When Emma’s gone I’ll go back to Celia. When I was with Celia, I thought she was the marriageable type. The type you can bring home to meet the family. She was superficially religious, but deeply spiritual. The kind of person who will go to church with her parents and worship God but really, to her, God can be anything. She’s the reason I don’t eat meat. She told me life is fluid and never static. It flows from one living thing into the next. She’d say things like that all the time and she wrote songs too. I thought it was beautiful. I wish I didn’t eat any living thing at all but that’s impossible. Why is it that living things must destroy other living things to survive?


My parents raised me in a Baptist church. They are hardline Calvinists. They believe in total depravity, limited atonement, unconditional election, and so on. Maybe I still believe it too. They loved Celia when we first started dating. They didn’t mind that she went to a Pentacostal church where worshippers prayed in glossolalia and fell prostrate when they were touched on the forehead. We had been together for a year or so and then her grandmother, who’d helped raise her, died of pneumonia. She had Alzheimer’s. She couldn’t swallow properly anymore and she inhaled some food which caused an infection in her lungs. I went to the funeral and not long after, Celia broke things off. She started hanging around different crowds. She lost her faith—though, maybe faith is the wrong word. She started drinking—which led to pills with led to heroin.


Emma texts me to tell me she’s leaving for good. Darren is going to send a U-Haul to our house tomorrow. She says I can be there if I want. It’s up to me.


I remember growing up with Emma. I remember as if I really did. Even though I grew up in Texas and she grew up here. I remember the big Texas sky. Sky wide and deep with cumulus clouds and jet plane exhaust. And I remember her. I see her running with the entire Texas sky behind her and in front of her. I smell sun-warmed cedar mulch. We’re small and the grass is tall in the low hills behind our development. We crawl along the parched cracked ground to hide from the groundskeeper. She shimmers in the grass beside me. Ducking in and out of sight. Funny the way the past changes with the present.


I want to see Celia. Most of the time I’ll find her at Martin Bradley’s place. Martin Bradley’s place is a nice Victorian-style house on north second street. Sometimes Celia is at her mom’s house. She’ll promise her she’s done with heroin and her mom will let her stay in her old room. Let her try to get back on her feet. But most of the time I’ll find her at Martin Bradley’s place. On the couch or on the stained carpet floor. With a group of space-eyed teenagers or by herself. When I see her, if she feels like it, we’ll fuck. If not, I’ll sit with her and we’ll watch cartoons. I might buy some Xans from Martin. I might hold her spoon and lighter while she sets the needle and pulls back the plunger. We’ll talk. Once, I went to see her and she was on the floor, slouched against the leather couch. There was a puddle of vomit on the couch. I said, “Hi.” She swung her head back to look up at me. Her hair pressed into the vomit. “Hi,” she said. She squinted at me for a minute, her fingers absently played with the edge of a white-dusted plastic bag. Finally, she said, “Did you know Martin cuts this with baby formula?” I told her no, I didn’t. “We have no choice but to consume it,” she said. “Us and babies, I mean.”


When I worked at the grocery store, one of the department managers told me when he was going with this woman he helped her raise her kids. When they broke up he did this again and then he did it a third time before he met his current wife. I asked if he had any kids of his own. He told me no, though, there might be one. The mother won’t show up for the paternity test when he schedules one. I wonder if I’ll ever want a family the way he wants a family.


Celia told me about her grandmother. It was one of the times she was staying at her mom’s house. She didn’t want to fuck. She wanted to play me a song she had been working on. She grasped at and hung to every note she sang. I noticed her eyes were green like mine. When she’s high I forget her narrow pinched eyes have color when they open wide. Then we sat on her bed, on the faded pink comforter from her childhood that her mom won’t throw out, staring up at these glow in the dark stars she had glued to her ceiling. I asked her why she left me when her grandmother died. She looked over at me, half-closed one eye, and asked, “Why the sudden interest?” I shrugged and said I had been thinking about things more lately. “Like a new age mindfulness thing?” she said. I shrugged again. “Sure.”


Celia’s fingers absently plucked at the strings on her guitar. Almost a melody. She told me her grandmother was far gone when she died. Most days she didn’t remember her own name. But right before she went, she had a moment of lucidity. Her eyes cleared, she saw Celia, Celia’s mom. She told them, “I’m a little girl, husking corn with my mother on the front porch. Watching my father’s truck drive up the dirt driveway and the dust kicking up behind him.”


Celia stopped talking. I looked at her expectantly. She looked back at me. “Then what happened?” “She died.” “Oh.” I shifted uncomfortably. I wanted to look at the glued-on stars again. Celia sighed and looked at me in this way, smiling this disappointed smile I still see when I think of her.

valentines day

i’m afraid to grow old. though, maybe afraid is the wrong word. anyway, dying young as opposed to dying old and senile is just so sweetly romantic. a young death is an uncut ruby presented to friends and family for their imaginations to shape and polish. and by god, they’ll hold onto that ruby forever like an engagement ring. now just think, what a bold grand romantic gesture it is to extend to the world, to other living things, to the universe. look universe, see this gun, this head i will split open for you. my head open, gushing forth. all for you. i’m sorry, universe, others aren’t as stingy about your entropy as I am.

love poem

we know the townspeople and the
neighbors hate us, but we
go on living anyway with the curtains
pulled to and the tv blaring at full volume.
though. the tv is a point of contention.
Half-Gone won’t turn it off even though I’m stretched
out on his lap, pressed into him,
waiting for any desire to take hold.

I know love and I think he remembers it.
I lift his shirt and bury my face in
his concave belly, tight and cold
like cowhide stretched over a drum shell.
I’ve given him everything I could get my
hands on: viagra, testosterone shots,
supplements, extra green vegetables,
extra red meat. no results. not in weeks.

his eyes are still warm. maybe warmer than
they used to be. I pull my face from his skin
and look up at him. there they are. half smoky
blue, half brown amber curled inward.

he stoops down to kiss me, placing his hand
firm and sure on my jaw, my neck,
my breast before coming
to rest on my hip.

do you miss me yet? he whispers.

I will cherish this lucidity.

I pull myself to my knees and prop
him up, cupping his face in my hands
like some precious artifact. the tv blares
behind me, I watch Half-Gone’s eyes drift
between it and me.

ii.
she takes me to the
shower. she says i stink
like all hell, but i don’t
smell anything. the water
feels like sand, eroding me
down to a skeleton
with eyes and ears. she
pulls off her shirt and shorts and
steps in with me. i tell
her i don’t like the water. she
shushes me like a child. I’m not a child.
i think I’m just the opposite. i
remember being a child, wild
and young on the run from
any force of gravity that
might pull me down. i think
i hated my mother. i never knew
my father and i loved him more dearly
than anything.
iii.
heaven exists only in the past, in photographs,
diaries, home movies, memory. so by
chasing after some future paradise, we are
only running farther from it.

someone told me that once.
i think about it more and more these days.

before he was Half-Gone, he was like anyone
else. whole and perfect. he wasn’t the first
to start to go, but it happened early enough
that there were still doctors to scratch their
heads over his changing eyes, slowing heartbeat,
shallowed breathing, feverish paling skin.

we showed them the bite, they gave him
HRIG, when that didn’t work they tried
insulin shots. by then it was all over
the news. by then we knew.

mobs rule our town now that the cops and FBI agents are dead, gone,
or just trying to get by like the rest of us. they take the ones like Half-Gone to the
dry lake bed and leave them in the crusted salt and the sand
to starve and dry out in the sun—unless they’ve tasted
flesh. those are executed in the street.
they came for him
once but I hid him in the wall behind the apartment’s
water heater. when they couldn’t find him they
called me a crazy bitch for keeping him here
but they never came back for him.

 

iv.

i’m no longer
hungry for what
she brings me, every
rib shows through
my skin, translucent
she tells me she can
see my heart beating
hard and sturdy
under flesh bone
muscle tendon—i’m
not so sure. she
sees what she wants.
my hands are stiff
clutching food air
her. she massages them,
gives me diazepam
but i can’t even lift a fork,
and even if i could,
it all tastes like dust.
so she brings me new
food, soft and wet.
my hands are only good
for holding the new food
down
as i
stoop to tear at it
with my teeth.

 

note: I realized my previous poem wanted to be longer, so here it is expanded and with a new title (for some reason I like calling everything a love poem). As always, thank you for reading!