In ancient Byzantium, crowds
waited for someone to be sainted
before unearthing the holy bodies
and divvying up the pieces.
They rushed to receive what
was recognizable, like ears
and limbs. The stragglers
were left to masses of flesh
and tissue but held it close,
as if by holding onto some part
of some other body their bodies
would become holy in themselves.
I know sainthood has never
been in my stars but still,
looking in a mirror, I try
to cover and uncover
parts of my face, as if
I were revealing myself
to myself, part by part.
I try to find the ways my body
is not my own by asking my mother
why I’m so young but I feel so old.
I am a tapestry of my mother’s
imbalance, my father’s thirst.
I don’t know if anything is holy.
Once You Were
Once you were something folded
inside itself and nobody stared at you,
nobody wanted to spend the time
to watch the painfully gradual process
of your unfolding. Once your intricate
system of roots lay twisted with those
around you, avoiding the same stones,
drinking the same water.
You are a dahlia plucked and bobbing
in transit, at the mercy of the plastic
wrapper of the bouquet, longing for
the rough skinned hands of the florist,
or maybe the gloved hand
of the gardener, just something that
will touch you on purpose again,
even if it’s just to pick away thorns,
to peel away your dead petals.
The obtuse angle of sidewalk to street,
the road paved into something smooth,
unnatural. There is the corner
where my babysitter skidded and slipped,
the blood buried under fresh tar. Here
is where I buried my dog, here are the weeds
I never plucked from my garden.
Here is where I spit nervous fingernails,
here is where the lightning struck a tree
in half, where the roots showed
themselves like a road map of a town
where you better just stay where you are.
I never wore sandals again, scared
the metal clasps would attract summer
lightning. There, the dog pen where
my brother locked his childhood friend,
told him they were playing prison. Here
is where I played prison. Here is the window
I snuck out of, there is the door I went in.
There is water spigot, the clean feet.
The sandy backyard, the patch free of grass
where a tent sat flaunting its flaps.
There is a post missing a hammock, the spot
where I knocked out my teeth, the shredded
cotton of old casts and slings. The curb
misses our damp bathing suits, but the mailbox
told him to shut up about it. Through
the back window, the washing machine gurgles,
does not care whose clothes it chews,
does not care what size, or else doesn’t notice.
The letter was hand-delivered, addressed but not stamped
as if you tried to leave it to the mailman but couldn’t
after licking the envelope, feeling the bulge of pages
like some mad-scientist heart waiting to be given pulse.
You needed to see it land in the mailbox. You needed
to shut the small plastic door. You needed to pretend
it was afraid of the dark so that you could pretend
that it was the dark that you were afraid of, too.
I could still hop a turnstile, if I wanted to.
It requires small maneuvers of feet,
respect for the metal bars. It calls for something
on the other side with its back turned
and for an indifferent train.
I am grasping for the hidden constellations in taillights.
I am learning to measure in revolutions.
Like the yard inside a broken fence, you touch
what isn’t yours to touch.
When the mountains are blown into two
for a highway, the trees still reach their roots,
even if its towards the rigid yellow lines.
You pitied me the way the tires pity road kill.
I pitied you the way the road kill pities the vulture.
Newport, Rhode Island
In Newport, Rhode Island, we awake
to blue light in a nylon tent at dawn,
to our sweat mixed in small pools
with grains of dirt on the tent’s bottom.
In Newport, Rhode Island, we pull each other
over rocks, pause on jetties jutting out into bay,
put mansions between our thumb
and forefinger and keep them for later.
By the end of our walk, I am heavy
from carrying all the chandeliers,
the French doors and marble counters
in the front pocket of my jean shorts.
In Newport, Rhode Island we are two
kids in a crowd of thousands, people
our age, old men with gray pony tails
and pocketed harmonicas. Children
spin circles and collapse on blankets,
blow bubbles across the old army fort,
leaving rainbows on dusty brickwork.
A string snaps sound. We are surrounded
by harbor, by half century old echoes
and emptied cannons even older.
The crowd sways. My lips are hesitant,
my ears unaccustomed to hearing you sing.
Heaven is a Wooden Attic
When I was small enough that I could only
hug my father’s knees, my parents told me
when people died they went to heaven;
when they left, they stayed in my heart.
To me, heaven was an attic that existed
in the sky at the same time as it existed
in my chest. The windows shook
in their frames when I ran for the bus
or if I walked home after the streetlights
were illuminated like moons caught in jars.
When I was small enough that I could nestle
between my parents in a bed they still
slept in together, heaven was a wooden attic.
I collected people there, then stared at my chest
because heaven was in the sky and in my body.
I listened for my grandpa’s laugh, I squinted
my eyes to catch a glimpse of my babysitter’s
braces. I swore I could feel the wings
of my pet bird beating against my skin.
No one slept in the attic, but they rocked
on wooden chairs and stared at exposed
ceiling beams or else made conversation.
God kept the wood polished, kept the chairs
from splintering. And when I die, I’ll shrink
into a pinpoint before knocking on the door
of my own chest. I’ll fall into a rocking chair.