keep your eye

[happy mother’s day! i hope you enjoy this poem i created for the may 5th services at all souls unitarian universalist church in tulsa, as part of my artists’ residency. the whole church is exploring the theme of truth for the month.]

keep your eye (interpolates excerpts from the song “anticipate” by ani difranco)

1.
“we don’t say everything that we could
so that we can say later, ‘oh, you misunderstood’”
in the story i heard,
someone else played the role of villain,
though my mother never revealed
their evil deed.
she just said it, like sliding
a note underneath the door.
when my mother doesn’t give
explanations willingly,
don’t even bother asking.
she clearly did not want to talk about it.

2.
fact: noun. a thing that is known or proved to be true.
eventually, we started having an affair.
both she and i, cheating on our respective partners,
all under the same roof, all under their noses.
after six months, we came clean, endured painful breakups,
then reuinited with our partners, and started cheating.
together. again.
i kept telling myself these lies:
that i was changing, becoming better,
but the truth is,
i never had good intentions to begin with.

3.
“i hold my cards up close to my chest,
i say what i have to, and i hold back the rest”
the internet became, during that time, its own magician.
people could prestidigitate themselves
into whatever they wanted.
so, that’s what i did.
slipped on new names, stole beautiful women’s pictures
made the boys of my dreams fall in love
with the girl i’d always wanted to be.
i wasn’t really lying to them,
not even about how much i loved them.
it was my voice, my feelings, my personality,
just poured into a package they actually wanted.
a package that didn’t look like me.

4.
qualifier: noun. a word or phrase used to attribute a quality to another word.
i do this thing
where i add words like “little bit” and “kinda”
to my statements. it’s a coping skill.
to make me smaller. to make me feel more protected.

5.
“you are subtle as a windowpane standing in my view,
but i will wait for it to rain so that i can see you”
my grandmother always said my parents left me with her
because i was sick. i believed for a long time
that they didn’t like me, didn’t want to be with me,
because i was sick.
my grandmother never told me how she convinced
my parents that my bronchitis would heal faster
if i were with her, that her house was warmer
than theirs.
better for me.

6.
omission: noun. someone or something that has been left out or excluded.
it felt like a betrayal to have ever had my uncle near us.
It felt like a betrayal that my mother never
told us what he did to her,
what he could have done to us.
he’s in prison now. for molesting another little girl.
i hate him.

7.
“for every hand extended, another lies in wait”
he told me he loved me. said, “in the unlikely event
that we don’t end up together, i will never
disappear from your life.”
what he didn’t say was that he was already
somebody’s husband, and five children’s father.

8.
“repetition is the secret to developing a powerful belief.”
listen. hear the chanting in the distance.
now, whether those voices encant
truth or lie,
bottomless love or brittle hatred,
they are doing the same work.
they are making themselves
believe

mornings

(a poem about mothering. in honor of my late grandmother, patsy johnson, who made sure i didn’t walk through this life uncovered after my mother passed away.)

mornings,
sunlight is a cruel authority.
my bones whisper one word:
“buckle.”
then the ocean-tide
of your sleeping breath.
the heartbeat of you.
i defy my skeleton’s
seductive stasis.
i move.
it does not matter that this
isn’t joy.
this is the slick-stout medicine
of what is.

mornings,
knees groan, feet swell,
and the warm architecture
of your forehead
instructs me: move.
this is no whimsical aching
in the blood.
no sweet thing.
this is the unquivering jawline
of a million women,
comprising the hand of God.
this, hard and simple.
because you are here,
i move.

don’t

(happy valentine’s day! i’m actually not cynical about love [anymore] but i genuinely like this poem. i’d love to hear your thoughts on it! )

men

wearing innuendo

blunt as old blades

suggest

as a way of flirting

that i should write poems

for them:

smiles wide as memory,

voices winking seduction.

they do not know

how their blood will taste

flooding underside of tongue.

they do not know

my poems are my weeping

my ancestors

my vulgar spilling menses

my alchemic reckoning.

they have never smelled

their flesh

curling under flames

like a heavy lover,

the sweetness

of their bones smoking to soot,

and i do not tell them

either.

i say, ‘i will show you

the man for whom

i wrote many poems.

ask him when you meet him.’

i say, ‘ask him what

he lost in the fire.

ask him the fire’s name.’