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Exhibit X

I learned in school that war is what happens 
when nations disagree, but the textbooks never told me 
that war is also what happens when parents disagree, 

and when children throw insults harder than they hit baseballs
and when I cannot force myself out of bed in the morning 
because there is a voice in my head that tells me 
I might win the battle, but I will not win the —

War is what happens when teachers call on students
who don’t have the answers and they are left 
fighting their father once he sees their report card. 
War is what happens when it rains so hard 
blades of grass bend over defeated. 
War is what happens over telephone wires when a son 
tells his mother he is gay and her white flag 
of surrender is the phone going dead.

I have seen war burst into being the moment girls think 
they’re too old to hold hands and again some years later when 
they’re too young to do more than that, but charge forwards regardless
only to end up with semen exploding inside them like shrapnel.

I have seen war across some people’s wrists.
I have seen it in bones trying to revolt from the flesh.
I have seen it in eyes like double whiskey shots
that are drunk off self-hatred.

I was taught that war was loud. It was supposed to be
bombs and a dictator’s speech and the sound of an entire race 
being crossed off one by one, like the days of a calendar.
And I can agree that this is war, but war can also be quiet.

War can be as quiet as a miscarriage.
Or the therapy sessions afterwards, which is quieter even.

It can be as silent as a gas leak.

They asked me in sixth grade what war meant to me
and I told them about the Holocaust, I told them about the Jews.
I didn’t tell them about the boy across the road from me
whose father used his forearms as ashtrays and whose eyes
were the American flag: star-spangled.

I didn’t tell them about women that have their bodies claimed 
like new worlds, or men who punch walls and wear their bruised knuckles
like honour badges for all the tears they haven’t cried because 

they were raised to be soldiers and soldiers do not cry.

I didn’t mention any of these things because I was taught 
that war was big. It was something that happened between countries 
and it happened with armies and guns and nuclear weapons.

But if they asked me now—if they asked me now
what war meant to me, I would tell them that war is what happens 
inside people, and I would show them this poem as my evidence.

i wonder

i wonder if you ever think about me. i wonder if you remember things about me. i wonder if you see things and they remind you of me. i wonder if you even care anymore. i wonder if you still think of me every day like you said you used to. i wonder if you regret what happened. i wonder if you’re happy with her. i wonder if you wish she was me. i wonder if you would care if i died. i wonder if you talk about me. i wonder if you’re alright. i wonder if you ever finished that degree you were working on. i wonder if you changed your major. i wonder if your family is doing okay. i wonder if you still smoke the same brand of cigarettes. i wonder if you’re letting your hair grow out. i wonder if you have new scars. i wonder what you did on valentines day, spring break, last weekend. i wonder if you’re asleep. i wonder if you’re home. i wonder what you would do if i called. i wonder what you would do if i came over. i wonder if it would make a difference. i wonder if you would let me in.

every goodbye is an open door.

So sometimes it doesn’t work out. Sometimes the girl goes back home, to her sob story mother and her too-small bedroom. Sometimes the boy with the good heart breaks you into more pieces than anyone else because it’s really the ones with the drinking problems that know enough about getting hurt to be gentle. Sometimes the one who said they’d never leave hops a plane or hitch-hikes five states north of you. Sometimes you are the problem. Sometimes you are the one putting people’s bodies out like cigarettes. Did you know that if you put a lit match into your mouth, the oxygen stifles the flame? What that means is we have the power to put out fires. What that means is we are all capable of magnificent things. On our own. Sometimes your mother still talks to your ex and you hear their secret phone-calls and listen for your name like a prayer that isn’t answered. Sometimes he’ll come home too late and you will make him sleep on the couch only to miss him in bed next to you. Sometimes the girls aren’t honest. Sometimes they mistake convenience for love. Sometimes they’re with you because it’s easy. And they leave when it gets too hard. Sometimes there’ll be someone else involved and you will spend every day of your life comparing yourself to anyone who has their high forehead or their slack little mouth. Sometimes they’ll apologize. They will write you sorry letters and you will wallpaper the insides of your head with them. Sometimes he changes his number, but you still leave voicemails on the old one when you’re having a bad day. Sometimes the girl moves on too quickly. Sometimes she tries to come back, and you let her, only to watch her leave again. Sometimes this happens more than once to just one person. Sometimes it happens again and again, so much so that they start to associate love with leaving. Sometimes that’s exactly what love is. Sometimes leaving is better than tip-toeing around each other. Sometimes leaving is the best thing to do. And the kindest. And the bravest. Sometimes love is more effort than anything is worth. Sometimes it’s a lost cause. Sometimes it’s not what we were looking for. Sometimes it’s not what we need. Sometimes it doesn’t work out because sometimes it’s not supposed to. 

the motions of love.

After a while of loving someone, you forget what ever made you start. You forget the snake pit that was your stomach for the two months before you even kissed. You forget that before they were yours, they were someone else’s, and nothing is as difficult to endure as that. Somehow, once you’ve loved someone for a long, long time, you stop loving them at all. Because it isn’t a feeling of love; it isn’t an act of love; it is only something that exists, but which you take no part in. You are no longer a participant in your own affections. You give it out freely. You cook them dinner and listen to the songs they like and cry when they don’t come to bed with you even though you like it better when you have more space. We do these things out of learned emotions. We respond how we have become used to responding. When they look at that girl on the street in a crop top, you run away. You spend all night ignoring them, remembering every time they’ve ever done you wrong, you cry your vision cloudy. Except, for what? It doesn’t really hurt. We make the decision to be hurt. We tell ourselves they were wrong to have done that, they were wrong to have done so many things. Where they have maybe left only a powder blue bruise, we punch and twist and hit on tables until it is dark as ink, until we have an excuse to be angry, until we have something to point to and say, “look, look what you’ve done.” Is love really this way? Are we all just pretending? Is the human condition so predisposed to adjustment that all things which we might call spontaneous are really set in stone? Are we all dried out? I, for one, have made a machine of my heart. I have written in the code so that when his eyes go there, my heart tightens; when he comes home late, I lose my voice; when he crawls into bed and tries to love me with his body, I try to love him back with mine. I don’t know if this is love, but I’ve got it down to a T.

If I Ever Have A Daughter

The first lesson I intend to teach my daughter

is that the fastest way to stop crying is to never start.

I will teach her that her heart is a testament to every one

of my failed suicide attempts. I will sit her in front

of mirrors and make her read poetry out loud

until she associates her own face with a millennia

of wonder. I am tired of seeing beautiful girls

with gauzes on their wrists and jaws slack with apologies.

My daughter is allowed to be sad, but she is not allowed

to be ashamed of it. When there are things inside her that are

the deadweight of sleeping bodies, I will take her to the

highest building and demand she throw them off the roof.

The first lesson I intend to teach my daughter is that she is

worth more than how little or how much other people

love her. I will teach her that her value does not depend on

how many men want to see her naked. She will know

from the very start that her body is a gift.

I will never allow her to give herself away as if she is

a scratch card or a lottery ticket that should be

passed around until someone hits the jackpot.

I will teach her that happiness is a choice some of us

are too indecisive to make. I will teach her that the only

real success in life is feeling at ease in your own skin.

The only thing that really matters is that we treat ourselves

kinder than anyone else could. The first lesson I intend

to teach my daughter is that I am a mistake to learn from.

Warning Signs That He Doesn't Love You:
  • If you call him and he doesn’t answer, there is no excuse. He is probably not cheating on you. That doesn’t matter. Infidelity is not the only thing that hurts. If you call him and he doesn’t answer and you call him again and he doesn’t answer and you call him one more time and he still doesn’t answer, he does not love you. If he can’t leave a classroom for five minutes to make sure you’re okay, he does not love you. If he can’t pause a game, or god forbid, lose it for the sake of your well-being, he does not love you. If he doesn’t want to seem “whipped” in front of his friends, he does not love you. If he can’t lose some sleep to use your phone-call as a rope that will hoist you from the depths of sadness, he does not love you. If he doesn’t answer, he does not love you.
  • If you mention you write poetry and his first instinct is not to ask if he can read some of it, maybe give him another chance. If you leave some of that poetry laying around the house, like mousetraps you are hoping will catch him, and he still doesn’t read it, maybe give him another chance. If you ask him to read that poetry and he still doesn’t read it, leave. He does not love you.
  • If he lets go of your hand in front of his ex, he does not love you. If he lets go of your hand in front of his ex’s mother, he does not love you. If he lets go of your hand, stop giving it back.
  • If he would rather watch TV before bed than talk to you, don’t take that quietly. Don’t turn around and welcome sleep. Don’t exchange his body heat for blankets. If he values Doctor Who more than your conversation, he does not love you. He also does not realize what an exceptional thing your mind is.
  • If he does something wrong, tell him. If he apologizes, accept. If he thinks apologizing means you are never allowed to bring it up again, he is a man. If he thinks apologizing relieves him of all responsibility, he is a man. If he thinks apologizing is the easiest way to shut you up, he should be ashamed of himself.
  • If he doesn’t tell you you’re beautiful at least once a day, he doesn’t deserve you. If you are receiving more compliments from other people than from him, they deserve you more. If he doesn’t think you’re beautiful, he’s wrong. And he doesn’t love you.
  • If he tells you he loves you while breaking your heart, he’s still breaking your heart. If he tells you he loves you while making you feel small, it makes you feel even smaller. If he tells you he loves you like it’s a bargaining chip, call his bluff. If he tells you he loves you as if that’s all a person needs, as if that’s enough to survive on, as if that’s a good enough reason to stay, do not stay. Do not love him.
Renovations

After the first time
you never again mistake
your body for being your own.

After the curled fists
and the werewolf howls
and the slick pink tongues
slip-sliding over your
embarrassed breasts,
it is not the same.

You begin to stand like a
For Sale sign, at the bus stop,
in the parking lot, in the
supermarket self-check-out line,
always rickety and unsure,
forced to welcome people in.

You have a spine made of jelly,
made of play-dough, made of
wet plaster.

You are always under construction.

When the men come in their
hard hats, jackhammers in their belts,
nails held tight between their teeth,
they think they are here to fix you.

They think they are doing you
a favour. You must admit
your body has been caving in.

It has a leaky ceiling, creaking
hinges, it makes too much noise.

Your body is an abandoned house.
You have to tear it all down
in order to build it back up.

They are here to pull you apart.

After the first time, the sound of
breaking glass doesn’t make you flinch.
The dust catches in your throat like hope.

The rubble of your body begins
to look like a promise.

things sound different the way i say them.

I wonder whether the word “sorry”

sounds more sincere in other languages.

I wonder if it leaves the mouth like a small

white bird and lands on the shoulder of

whomever has been wronged. I wonder

if it sounds less like a clatter of knives.

The way you say it, it sounds like air

whooshing from a punctured tire.

It sounds like page after page of a bad novel

being crumpled up and thrown one after

another into a wastebasket. I wonder if

somewhere in the world, the word

“lonely” is a happy thing. I wonder if

it means enjoying your own company.

I wonder if it sounds less like the pop

of a blister pack of pills when it comes

out a mouth other than mine. I wonder if

“lonely,” when said in Arabic, sounds like

something to be proud of. What about

“I miss you”? On my tongue, “I miss you”

is the tree that falls down in a forest when

no one is around to hear. Is there anywhere

it sounds more like the way a preacher

talks? Does it ever sound like a sermon?

The way other people say it, does it ever

mean anything? I wonder if in another

language, in another pitch, another tone,

just in another person’s mouth, I wonder

if the word “love” doesn’t sound like “please.”

I wonder if other people manage to say it so

it sounds less like an echo in an empty room.

"if we agreed to move on with our lives..."

You would do it without leaving any of your heart behind. You’d do it and feel good about it. You’d remember me fondly, but if we were ever forced into the same room again, you wouldn’t wonder if I looked the same under my clothes. You wouldn’t be consumed by the thought that we used to lay next to each other naked. You wouldn’t wonder about my mouth. You wouldn’t want to touch me. You wouldn’t hang around in a corner waiting for me to come near so that you could seduce me. You would let go.

I would be bitter. I wouldn’t remember anything nice about you. I’d remember all the bad things. I’d cry about you to my next lovers. I’d tell them it’s your fault I am a failure when it comes to love, and the one before you and so on. And if we were forced into a room together, I’d keep thinking of how your hands used to touch my body, how you used to kiss me between the legs, and now you won’t look me in the eye. I’d still be a sad girl with a broken heart that I’d want to cut up the world with. I’d wait for a moment alone with you and then remind you of my body. Not by showing you. Not by telling you. Just by letting the silence between us force you to remember it. Then I’d kiss you in the dark just to prove I could make you give in to me. It’d be half out of love and half out of a need to be your weakness.

a lampshade of your skin

Back when it was all about you,

I left my voice in over a hundred voicemails.

It started out big as Texas then shrunk until

it fit in the palm of my hand and I would throw it

at you, feather that wouldn’t get anywhere,

feather that fell short of your feet, feather I am,

I just couldn’t make it that far.

Three years ago, you were all there was.

I wrote you into every poem.

I drank my senses blind with you.

I sat in dark rooms and loved you so hard

our hearts eventually beat in sync.

All this means is that you ruined me for everyone else.

All this means is I am better at loving than anything else,

but it still wasn’t enough to make you stay.

I tried to change you, didn’t I?

Tried to make steel of your limbs to make it harder

for you to run. Fucked you in the dark so you forgot

your body existed separately from mine. Kissed you

so hard you thought love was Nazi Germany,

thought I wanted a lampshade of your skin.

I play innocent. I play soft. I play the victim,

but I know you left because I have a mouth full of

bullets and you got tired of having to pick shrapnel

from between your ribs. I know you left because

as the voicemails got quieter, they got deadlier, too.

Until the beep at the end could be confused with

a life support machine as it flatlines.

for my love like a flickering night lamp.

Darling,

This morning I woke and wanted so badly to be inside you. It is one war too many to love you from afar. It is one last challenge of my strength which I fail, I fail so miserably. I dream you beside me with your legs open like all of summer. I want to crawl inside you like a cat. I want to make a nest of your body. Tuesday last you left too soon. You were in the green dress with the chiffon bottom and I forgot to tell you how much I liked it on you. The backs of your legs tortured me as you packed away your make-up things. What can I do to make you stay? I push the word under my tongue. Stay. I know what you think of yearning men. You have no time for men who beg. I won’t beg because then not only will you not stay, but you won’t come back either. This is no way for me to live. I have made a matchbox of my heart for you to strike your tongue of flint against. I am always pining at the door for you to come, like a sick dog that needs to know it’s still loved after being left alone in the house for too long. When did you make a mutt of me? How long have I slobbered over your returns? I am ashamed of myself, of my heart like a chew toy. I am tired of watching you go. I am tired of crying into your left behind nightgowns, then hiding them away in the hope you won’t remember them. I love you so hard that I’m afraid it will hurt you. 

the danger of our species.

it was thunderstorm until i met you. it was wet grass smell on early mornings. the sky was an ashtray. love was a news broadcast that warned you to stay indoors. i stocked up on canned goods before you, shelved them in the basement and sat there some nights, waiting for the worst to come because that is what i’d been promised. some storms break, though; others forget their own intentions. mine was an amnesiac storm. mine was Alzheimers and dementia. mine only roared so loud because it couldn’t get anyone’s attention. all it wanted was a map, some assistance with direction. then it would curl up in one of the small cities and sleep underneath the streets. there was sun the first day you introduced the fact of your existence to me. suddenly there were oranges on the trees. you picked them down with ease and showed me how to smile through a mouth full of rind. the damp left the forest by my house and in its place came birds. in its place came daffodils that stood up proud like soldiers. we saluted them on our walk, little officers of the earth. front-line troops that had risked their spines in the days raindrops were bullets before you. you taught me all living things struggle to grow. you taught me we all face our own trials. humans create their own. everything else only solves their own. we are the only things ruining this world, and not even for others, only for ourselves. i made you a promise to stop being a lighthouse for black clouds. i had called in my own apathy and you exorcised it out of me.

i can’t hear the word college without thinking of you.
are you there now, is she with you, do you ever wake up shaking at night.

i can’t watch a sex scene in a film without thinking of you.
are you having sex now, are you having sex with her, does she hold you when you wake up shaking at night.

possibly i could stand it if you were with any other girl than her.
sleep with a different girl every night, i don’t care.
i could take that pain better than i can take this.

it’s been 5 months and i still can’t forget you.
i’ll never be able to un-see how you looked that night,
or the first time that we met.

seperated,
and then brought back together by something.
at the time i thought fate
true love
destiny.
{but now i remember it more as a punishment
a death sentence}

you held me in your arms,
and you cried.

you told me that you loved me, and i’m sure
that you’re telling her you love her now.

you left me once,
i had just managed to move on
to heal
when you came crashing
back into my life.
hacking your way through my heart strings
forcing me to love you again.

please don’t come back this time.
i love you
but
i don’t
know what to
do

anymore.

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