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one cubic centimeter of brain tissue
is home to more neural connections
than there are stars in the milky way;
that war should sometimes erupt between them
is not possible so much as it is inevitable
and it’s important to remember this
the next time your mind decides
to bring the battle home.
some days will be harder than others
and none made easier by the glass barriers
your mind has so meticulously constructed.
still, despite the isolating nature of illness,
your fight is not one to be undertaken alone;
in case of emergency,
we’ll provide you with a hammer
but you need to be the one
to break the glass.
A few things you should know
Whenever I pray,
a dog somewhere dies.
My mother can’t look me in the eyes anymore.
I sleep with my contacts in
and I get sweats at night. I’ve gained six
pounds since December
and I’ve lost four friends and two possible
lovers. I bought two bamboo plants last week
and I’ve lied about six things since Wednesday,
(your haircut looks nice, I’ve watered the plants, I ate
already, I’ve got a test tomorrow, this isn’t your shirt,
I love you). Sometimes I think I’d be better off quiet.
I cheated on two math tests in the last year
and I want to learn how to stop bending
and finally break.
don't let anyone tell you that you're a bad writer
Writers are pretentious and
every time one tells me that my
writing is too subtle / not simple /
overrated / uninsightful— I want
to rip their pens right from their
clean hands and show them the
ink that I’ve spent my nights
You are allowed to rhyme,
you’re allowed to paint inconsistencies
across your ideas and stanzas. Do not
let college boys or day-time girls
tell you your poetry doesn’t make
any sense. If one tells you this,
spill facts about stoichiometry over
your free-verse. They’re only
concerned with chemistry during
blind dates with atheists.
If it matters
to you, write about it. Cliches are what
makes your poetry stale— but when
artists are starving, you must eat
as much spoiled bread as you can.
I can never not love
you. I can try as hard
as I want and forever,
but I will never not love
you. You have seared
yourself onto my soul
in permanent marker,
drawn an infinite tattoo
there, harboured like a
stowaway. You’re draining
my vital organs, my survival,
the ships about to crash, full
of water, drowning, and still
I can never not love you.
we’ve never kissed but when we do
it’ll be more than the press of your lips to mine
it’ll be me showing you all
the nights i’d miss you in my sleep and wake
with drying tracks on my cheeks and my breath
caught in my throat.
i’d let you swallow it all down
along with the breaths you’d
steal from my lips wide open.
there is a girl in my calculus class
who walks with one foot in front of the other, heels clacking against
dirty linoleum tile to emphasize the swing of her hips, the curvature of her bust;
her lips are bitten red and swollen, eyelashes thick with other girls’ envy,
a tally of all those who had tried to love her
in turn, she had tried to love someone once but all she got
were cursory kisses and half-empty promises
because she wanted love but he gave her roses
and diamonds and expensive wines they weren’t yet old enough to drink
and fucked her in exchange;
he’d have wrangled the moon from the sky to get himself laid
because she was young and hot and thought that someone
thrusting between her thighs was a substitute for romance
and she had to take what she could get-
but moreso because she could never let a debt go unpaid.
she shields herself in red lipstick and blonde curls,
arms herself in heels and short skirts against words meant
to shame her out of sex- for the yearbook superlatives,
she won the vote for ‘biggest flirt’ hands down
because it was the nicest way to call her a slut-
and meanwhile, flaunts her mind like a prize.
it turns out that boy had taught her more about love than any
sex ed teacher or after-school specials could have:
how to love herself, even if it means
barricading herself away like a gorgeous piece of museum art,
because she is worth more than cheap words and expensive love
and deserves someone who looks at her rather than through her.
she takes care to remember this as she steps through the too-small hallways
on her way to calculus, the sound of her heels against tile drowning out
snickers and catcalls; let them laugh, she thinks, let them laugh at the whore
with her painted red lips and pin curls
and if one or two of them happen to get through to her, well,
it’ll be just one more notch in her bedpost.
a love song for mia
I think I am leaking-
A woman pours her heart into a bowl
and feeds it to her cat. The heart
becomes a liquid thing- like heat,
but not so shocking red,
like my mother’s lipstick, like the first drop
of blood, like the tone of a poem
written all wrong.
Sometimes I look at people I don’t know
and think “I could love you”. My ribs tremble
with survivor’s guilt, and the branches of my
wrists spell out my future.
I think I am leaking-
and this is the sound of fragility.
We are capable of kissing
bruises and watching mothers cry
over lost children, who are not actually lost,
under the kitchen sink,
or in the upstairs closet, or in the concave
that is the human heart,
plucking ribcage songs.
My aunt miscarried four times
and after each one, she took me to Chinatown
in the city, and we would watch the gloved men gut
fish after fish after fish as if it meant something.
She carried all the ultrasounds for years after,
with names and the expected date of birth scribbled
on the back, and on the train ride home, she’d clutch
the bag of headless fish close to her body,
and softly, rub her finger over the worn leather of her wallet,
where the faint memories of life gathered dust inside.
My uncle used to burn hundreds of matches
on the front porch, and the first time we came home,
he stared at my aunt’s stomach and stumbled backwards,
something immense, something too big to understand, to describe,
quaking inside of him. He stopped burning matches
and started burning flowers, instead.
My aunt carries him too; in the way she walks,
stooped over, with this gentle sorrow pulling her
into the floor like sand.
Salma, May 17th 2003
Laila, November 29th 2006
Sophia, January 4th 2007
Hanna, August 23rd 2011
Four seasons for four daughters;
every day, dawn is the time for grief,
dawn is the moment where my aunt can finally sob
under the weight of the world, a 34 year old Atlas
with a home empty of children, and a body that deemed her unfit;
I have grown into a family of grief,
a life in which mourning and morning mean the same thing.
She said once: I am a shell, and you can hear
the ocean sputter and cough in my bones; I swear,
I would swim, if I wasn’t already sinking.
The sea rejected my aunt more than once,
and in her blank eyes, I am reminded of those Chinatown
fish more and more each day.
This was not love, he thinks, staring at her cigarette-stained fingertips. No, this was his sick attraction to something thrilling. Something that existed out of the choking atmosphere of the lecture room. She asks him why he’s there, and he’s tempted to reply with his thoughts, but doesn’t anyway. Instead, he says that he’s there because he’s bored. She smiles. So was she. So why don’t they do something crazy together. And there it was. That dizzying sensation, like ecstasy racing through his veins. He is only too fast to agree.
The two of them erased the world, blurring it with spinning lights and thick smoke. Like flares, they raced through the night, burning themselves into the eyes of every passerby. But this was not love. Because at the end they would leave each other just as quickly as they had drawn together. And perhaps it was this risk that made it so enchanting to him. Nevertheless, he found himself with tears in his eyes when light filtered through the crevices between skyscrapers. He doesn’t ask to meet her again, because that would ruin the trick behind the smokescreens.
No. This wasn’t love.
He found you crying on the grass
because it hurt to be alone,
and the sting from long ago
still burned, an unhealed cut
in the back of your neck,
each tear that plagued your wild, bright eyes
was the revealing of a secret,
he let you cry into his shoulder,
held your hand when you were scared,
and there was such warmth in his eyes
when he asked if it was so unbearable
to keep breath in your chest,
you clung to him when the world shook
and you couldn’t stay standing,
you want to kiss him only because the night seems dark
and you hope he’ll pour some light in you,
through breathless, feverish contact,
but he doesn’t want to kiss you, only hold you,
he just wants to fight the demons
and your heart swells at the thought,
he is the best thing that has happened to you,
the very best person you’ve known.
the mariana trench is 1580 miles long, 6.8 miles deep
and estimated to be at pressures of 1086 bars
which was over 1000 times the pressure of the air within our lungs
that first time in december.
afterwards, i told you i felt like i was drowning
and in response you recounted an overwrought metaphor about
storms and weathered sailors that you’d read in an old novel once
while i clung to you like a castaway to a piece of driftwood.
every week, another ships sinks to the bottom of the ocean
without so much as a distress signal
and when i told you this you grabbed me just as desperately,
vowing that you’d send the whole coast guard after me if you had to
all while i tapped morse code calls against your sternum
and tried to stay afloat.
in february i wore your presence like a life vest
(if you’re not within arms’ reach, you’ve gone too far)
and learned that at the bottom of the mariana trench there were organisms
which not only thrived but served as hosts so that others might live,
down there in darkness so thick that there was no place for oxygen.
in march i asked you how you managed to keep both of us afloat;
you told me you’d stopped trying weeks ago
and i spent hours listening to your too-large heart crash against your chest
with every laboured breath dragging against the seawater in your lungs
as a reminder that life has a funny way of existing
in places it isn’t meant to.
it’s barely april and i’m still finding myself shipwrecked on your shores
with a regularity that is entirely unsurprising
given the fact that i’m an excellent swimmer but a shit sailor.
i’ll always be afraid of the ocean
but it’s possible that life at the bottom might be tolerable
as long as ‘xenophyophore’ still sounds like a romantic thing to be
and the coast guard never stops searching.
I am hardly a hurricane.
My mother used to be able to solve a Rubik’s cube in a few minutes
without blinking, or so she says, but no one has ever seen her touch one—
not since a little boy in Germany claimed the world record in 1982.
She calls me often because I’m the only one whose willing to pick up
anymore and she retells the riddle of why I am named after
the sky, although I stopped asking her years ago.
I spend most of my 1, 2, 3 in the mornings in that café down
the street, writing answers to questions no one has thought of yet and
ordering more espresso as if the pen in my hand isn’t shaking enough.
It’s common knowledge that I should have been born and raised in
the other hemisphere where my mind’s clockwork
would have made more sense.
He talks about saving me like it is something that can occur,
and I have deceived him for all this time by being an inspiration
when the truth is that I am the eye of a storm and chaos surrounds me.
And I apologize in advance to him because I understand that
one day I will wander off too far in these woods, bleed until I am raw,
and then forget all my reasons to come back again.
I am hardly.