You leave the same impression
Of something beautiful, but annihilating.” —Sylvia Plath
My earliest memories of my mother
are sunburned. Pink cheeks.
Braids. Dirt under fingernails.
Before me, she was already self-conscious
about her stomach. Then I was made and I was too stubborn
to turn upside down inside her and they had to
cut her open and pull me out.
I learned how to put on lipstick
by watching her get ready for work
in the morning.
I learned how to criticize myself
by watching her cluck at the mirror,
swatting her hair down like a bad dog.
I am sorry for the white worm
I left across your middle.
She believes my sisters and I chose her
to be our mother. Handpicked her
from a basket of others.
This one. This one will teach us the most.
Learn to cherish this vessel,
the tired music of the body.
Let the skin be witness.
To grow. To grow.
I am standing in front of a mirror.
I am insulting myself out of habit
and suddenly my mother stops me,
“don’t say that, Sierra. If you think you are ugly,
you are creating that ugliness inside you.”
I am thankful for the bed in your belly.
I was a weary traveler.
My mother has a birthmark
the size of a grapefruit on her hip.
It is red and exploding.
I can only imagine
when she undressed for my father
the first time, it was like
watching the sun come up.
The photographer says she can’t wait until my next “opening.”
I start to correct her and say With poetry, it’s called a reading,
or a performance or a slam. Then I realize maybe that’s the problem.
So I step on my loud and say,
“Yes. Please come to my next opening!”
It will not be all good light and gallery smiles
but I will fresh slice the walls for you,
hang my absurd and wait for the wine to spill.
It’s been a long time since I’ve shown anything.
Notice the ten foot installation of Talks Too Much.
I eat margarine when I’m nervous. I get nervous
when you like me. I describe things poetically
to keep from saying what I really think.
This one here is my father.
Notice his head asleep on the stove.
His hands bloated like a drunken liver.
I drink when I can’t decide who to be.
I starve when decide I’m too much.
I am angry,
Which means you best prepare yourself
for the nasty awkward that will rain down upon you,
when I decide some things deserve my fucking angry.
I fall in love like some women fall in mortgage.
I have damn near become my mother.
Minus ﬁve husbands and a bad case of arthritis.
I am still cracking knuckles and divorcing.
I am terriﬁed that my children will ask why I didn’t
try harder. I am never alone. Never ever alone.
I go to crowded places where we sit, with a small plate
of cheese and fruit, cock our head to one side and say,
“I can’t believe someone pinned my stomach to a canvas.”
That is why we do this.
This is an invitation to stop swallowing the art in your mouth.
This is an invitation to stop ripping yourself apart.
This is an invitation to be a live nude. Let them draw you dirty, ﬂawed and glistening.
This is an invitation to
This is for the fat girls.
This is for the little brothers.
This is for the school-yard wimps, this is for the childhood bullies who tormented them.
This is for the former prom queen, this is for the milk-crate ball players.
This is for the nighttime cereal eaters and for the retired, elderly Wal-Mart store front door greeters. Shake the dust.
This is for the benches and the people sitting upon them,
for the bus drivers driving a million broken hymns,
for the men who have to hold down three jobs simply to hold up their children,
for the nighttime schoolers and the midnight bike riders who are trying to fly. Shake the dust.
This is for the two-year-olds who cannot be understood because they speak half-English and half-god. Shake the dust.
For the girls with the brothers who are going crazy,
for those gym class wall flowers and the twelve-year-olds afraid of taking public showers,
for the kid who’s always late to class because he forgets the combination to his lockers,
for the girl who loves somebody else. Shake the dust.
This is for the hard men, the hard men who want to love but know that it won’t come.
For the ones who are forgotten, the ones the amendments do not stand up for.
For the ones who are told to speak only when you are spoken to and then are never spoken to. Speak every time you stand so you do not forget yourself.
Do not let a moment go by that doesn’t remind you that your heart beats 900 times a day and that there are enough gallons of blood to make you an ocean.
Do not settle for letting these waves settle and the dust to collect in your veins.
This is for the celibate pedophile who keeps on struggling,
for the poetry teachers and for the people who go on vacations alone.
For the sweat that drips off of Mick Jaggers’ singing lips and for the shaking skirt on Tina Turner’s shaking hips, for the heavens and for the hells through which Tina has lived.
This is for the tired and for the dreamers and for those families who’ll never be like the Cleavers with perfectly made dinners and sons like Wally and the Beaver.
This is for the biggots,
this is for the sexists,
this is for the killers.
This is for the big house, pen-sentenced cats becoming redeemers and for the springtime that always shows up after the winters.
This? This is for you.
Make sure that by the time fisherman returns you are gone.
Because just like the days, I burn both ends and every time I write, every time I open my eyes I am cutting out a part of myself to give to you.
So shake the dust and take me with you when you do for none of this has never been for me.
All that pushes and pulls, pushes and pulls for you.
So grab this world by its clothespins and shake it out again and again and jump on top and take it for a spin and when you hop off shake it again for this is yours.
Make my words worth it, make this not just another poem that I write, not just another poem like just another night that sits heavy above us all.
Walk into it, breathe it in, let is crash through the halls of your arms at the millions of years of millions of poets coursing like blood pumping and pushing making you live, shaking the dust.
So when the world knocks at your front door, clutch the knob and open on up, running forward into its widespread greeting arms with your hands before you, fingertips trembling though they may be.
[…] and I wonder if Beethoven held his breath
the first time his fingers touched the keys
the same way a soldier holds his breath
the first time his finger clicks the trigger.
We all have different reasons for forgetting to breathe.
Heels of the shoes worn down, each
in its own way, sending signals to the spine.
The back of the knee as it folds and unfolds.
In winter the creases of American-made jeans:
blue denim seams worried to white threads.
And in summer, in spring, beneath the hems
of skirts, Bermudas, old bathing suit elastic,
the pleating and un-pleating of parchment skin.
And the dear, dear rears. Such variety! Such
choice in how to cover or reveal: belts looped high
or slung so low you can’t help but think of plumbers.
And the small of the back: dimpled or taut, spiny or not,
tattooed, butterflied, rosed, winged, whorled. Maybe
still pink from the needle and the ink. And shoulders,
broad or rolled, poking through braids, dreads, frothy
waterfalls of uncut hair, exposed to rain, snow, white
stars of dandruff, unbrushed flecks on a blue-black coat.
And the spiral near the top of the head—
peek of scalp, exquisite galaxy—as if the first breach
swirled each firmament away from that startled center.
Ah, but the best are the bald or the neatly shorn, revealing
the flanged, sun-flared, flamboyant backs of ears: secret
as the undersides of leaves, the flipside of flower petals.
And oh, the oh my nape of the neck. The up-swept oh my
nape of the neck. I could walk behind anyone and fall in love.
Don’t stop. Don’t turn around.
I like to think
he survived in order to find me, in order
to arrive here, sober, tired from a long night
of tongues and hands and thighs, music
on the radio, coffee— so he could look up and see me,
standing in the kitchen in his torn t-shirt,
the hem of it brushing my knees, but I know
it’s only luck that brought him here, luck
and a love that had nothing to do with me,
except that this is what we sometimes get if we live
long enough, if we are patient with our lives.
Dorianne Laux (excerpt from Music in the Morning)
bodies pare down over time to small letters, endstop, to names which are ascribed
to them. cancer. sclerosis. alzheimers. they are us and not-us. we can leave
them, and do, we can be notpresent, we can leave behind nothing but a body.
at night, in the ICU, with family sobbing around us, or more simply, every day,
small bits of us, gone.
aren’t we all something broken, and don’t we keep breaking every day.
Arianne Zwartjes (excerpt from for the cradling of hands)
And I wonder sometimes if steering wheels are just there
to mock us. And I feel terrible about the whole argument between
free will and destiny. All that I want is everything I want.
Music and rain and slight variations between the two.
Clay Matthews (excerpt from Poem In Which I Sort Of Break Down)
You are a Sunday porch I could do nothing on
and feel like everything was happening.
Derrick Brown (excerpt from Waltzing the Hurricane)
I want to see you.
Know your voice.
Recognize you when you
first come ‘round the corner.
Sense your scent when I come
into a room you’ve just left.
Know the lift of your heel,
the glide of your foot.
Become familiar with the way
you purse your lips
then let them part,
just the slightest bit,
when I lean in to your space
and kiss you.
I want to know the joy
of how you whisper
…there are things about you i collect and sell to no one.
i journal them in a book you gave me with the inscription,
‘don’t leave your ribcage in the icicle air. something will break…’
…you are an electric chair disguised as a la-z-boy recliner
and i find comfort in you…
…crush me with the satisfaction of your black misted, unclocked breath.
i always come back to the secrets and wonder of your breath.
It is something for sparrows to wander in.
it’s not that i wait for you
my arms are doors i cannot close.
Did you know that the metronome inside of us quickens when telling a lie?
I want to live in an honest house
where the motion detector is so sharp
it knows when my thoughts leave the room.
I want a clap-on lamp that works as a polygraph:
when you swear you still love me, the lights flicker.
Megan Falley (excerpt from The Honest House)
When my body had forgotten its purpose,
when it just hung off my brainstem like whipped mule.
When my hands only wrote. When my mouth only ate.
When my ass sat, my eyes read, when my reflexes
were answers to questions we all already knew.
Remember how it was then that you slid your hand
into me, a fork in the electric toaster of my body. Jesus,
where did all these sparks come from? Where was all
this heat? Remember what this mouth did last night?
And still, this morning I answer the phone like normal,
still I drink an hour’s worth of strong coffee. And now
I file. And now I send an email. And remember how
my lungs filled with all that everything? Remember
how my heart was an animal you released from its cage?
Remember how we unhinged? Remember all the names
our bodies called each other? Remember how afterwards,
the steam rose from us, like a pair of smiling ghosts?
Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz