I have been trying to teach a man how to love me for three years.
Teaching a man about love is less about fingers and tongue
and more about untangling fragile egos.
We’re navigating the dark together in a small boat,
dipping our oars into the ink, trying to reach shore.
The map was cryptic when we started and now it is creased
and waterlogged. It is coming apart in our hands.
He is dragging and pulling the water with a powerful stroke,
an athlete approaching the finish line
oblivious to the spectator sitting glumly on the sidelines.
I drum up enough enthusiasm to clap my hands but my eyes are not smiling.
Teaching a man to love you is exactly the same
as teaching yourself that you aren’t worth loving.
And this is how the end of my life begins.
I was waiting to hear if I was dying or not,
perched on the edge of an ugly orange chair
because I can’t stand hospital beds
and because I didn’t really want to know the answer
to that question,
I inquired about your sickness.
As an answer, you said
if your body will no longer hold you,
where will you spill?
Are you a glass of water sloshed onto the kitchen floor
seeping into every crack and crevice, begging for bottles, buckets,
someone’s outstretched hands formed into a cup?
Will you eventually meet a wild and raging river?
You, only one small molecule now, having scattered bits of yourself
every single step along this sweeping journey.
You tell me that you have already announced your death on Facebook
and that you post periodic updates.
I wanted a more comfortable response.
Something that didn’t require getting my hands dirty.
Something that didn’t sound quite so much like the sobbing
of the voice in my own head.
It seems logical to me that the dying would recognize the dying.
Probably a little known form of black magic, wouldn’t you say?
You say nothing and I sure as fuck say nothing
because I don’t yet know how to raise my fists
against this poison.
Later today my name will become terrible, terrible surprise
and no amount of wishing will change that.
Nevertheless, I do wish.
I wish my name were sweeter
like a bellyful of gummy bears
or a tree of cherry blossoms
opening their mouths to the oncoming rain.
My breasts are dangerous knives flashing in the night.
At this point, another name for cruelty is calendar
and a calendar is nothing
more than a method of counting the time
that we don’t have left.
And so I don’t ask again about your cancer.
Instead, I pretend to read the latest edition of Cosmo.
We sit in silence, your face an empty canvas but your eyes shrieking this:
Woman, this will be that year.
The one in which everything lists
a little to the left
while you dig your fingernails
into the wood and grip the railings
Those very same stars that you love will collide noiselessly
above thick, slumbering mountains
which care not one tick for your joy.
Each bright day will fade into the next.
One day you will rise too early
to the sound of nothing
but your own labored breath and sigh.
You will pluck your dreams from the air,
capture them between steepled fingers,
and struggle valiantly to hold onto them,
the heft lead in your palms.
Let them go. The end is so much nearer than you think.
I look you square in the eye and say – the truth is, I’d rather not know.
And then I walk out into the silence of the night
to make the most of every single second that I have left.
cannot be pronounced in the English language.
It is the sound of the deepest blue waters slipping
past sharpened glaciers which have never been kissed by the sun.
Sleeping in black beds of crystal and constant
change, they hold tight to nothing.
Once a man whispered my real name in the half light
of sunrise, his hands flitting above my skin
hummingbirds home for the feast.
Coming from his raw and beautiful lips, it sounded like celebration
and sex shouting into an echo chamber.
It was thick orange marmalade, sharp and sweet on the tongue,
begging me to eat from the jar with my fingers.
It tastes of honeysuckle and regret,
the heat and burning of one thousand freight trains grinding
to a halt. Of deep space and stars, dust and the passage of time, sharp metal,
old pennies and gunshots fired in the wrong direction.
My real name sounds like ink pens scribbling on pages,
paint and glue, sunshine and grass growing through cracks.
It feels like hips swaying in a purple sunset sky.
My real name was woven into my braids before I was born and still dances
barefoot in the dust clothed in dark skin, light skin.
No skin at all can contain my stars.
My real name curtsies easily but bows for no one, stands quick
and proud as the sky falls around me. My real name raises its hands in delight
five thousand times a day and doesn't settle for less than love
on fire, burning the house down around us.
It is razor sharp and laid upon the altar each morning,
a blood sacrifice to the gods of transformation.
It lies low under the surface of the water waiting
for the right moment to sink your ship.
My real name sounds like stubborn in six languages,
feels like cactus splines nestled deep in your favorite socks.
It's the noise a burning fire makes as the forest settles for the night.
My real name is as old as the world and is reborn every morning
as the sun tastes the mountain tops.