To Never Return to L.A.

I hiked through the backwoods of Yellowstone
wondering why my life did not change
with every step. That beauty could
become so manufactured. Looking over
another massive canyon– my third in the west
in three days– what’s so good about it?

You could fall into adventure, sure.
You can fall into anything.
Love, of course. Art.
Self-loathing.
Escape.

I drove aimlessly for three months,
watched landscapes lose their painted strokes.
The bristled edge of sky inside me turned
and dried, brought me back to deserts I camped in

on the side of the road many freezing nights,
my breath the hot air on windshield,

blocking my sight of stars,
those lost things guiding me
that smog made me forget.

 

(originally published in The Bitchin’ Kitsch, Summer 2017)

I Used to Film the Ocean

& I’m talking to this
video student at OU
who still dreams

but I’m jaded
& her boyfriend is jaded
‘cuz we both lived in L.A.

& he’s the type
I tried to avoid
that sneering type

who is “always correct”
supreme confidence
& cockiness

he shows me his art
a painting of a blue
stick figure hanging

on canvas
the best thing I’ve ever done
he says

but in no way does this
represent
my finer works

 

(originally published in #thesideshow, Spring 2017)

Symbolism for a Millennial Breakup

I cracked my phone screen
on my first date without you.

I carried it in my back pocket, like always,
though maybe I postured myself differently,

finally sitting up straight enough
to carry my own weight.

I didn’t look at my phone
until after the date. By then,

I could no longer remember you
without the shattered glass–

the flawless screen was not made
from our blazing beach days

of black seaweed and slithering kites
that begged the wind to let go,

where footsteps parted sand
to lead the tide into ourselves,

to let the moon drag our bodies
into the ocean’s boundless mirrors

where, enveloped in reflections,
we could only gasp for air.

 

(originally published in Metonym, Fall 2017)

Background Actors

At the foot of the staircase to the stars–
in the back of the line of actors drunken
from delusion (I’m going to make it),
each of us with hands full of hangers,
heads full of the fame
that glimpses a star, a familiar face,
how we chosen ones flicker
on living room screens
of friends and families–
a blip, a blur so brief
we were almost never there at all.

 

(originally published in The Piedmont Journal of Poetry and Fiction, Winter 2017)

Forsythia

The days when we would lay
on blue towels by the beach
combing through our Merriam-Webster
holding every fascinating word by the stems in our mouths,
our vibrancy was inseparable from gardens
full of hyacinths and rhododendron and zinnias
and, yes, forsythias, all these flowers in our hometowns
we never knew the names of
until we saw the words on sand-shorn pages,
said the names out loud, grasped endlessly
for petals in each other. No, we bloomed
laughter from our throats, planted seeds
into pits where absence grows in ensuing Aprils.
We never knew what words might appear
on Scrabble nights hunched over grids of possibility and–
strings of letters string surprising words together.
Marionettes, spider webs, violins, shoelaces,
your hair among the rules of nature, and nurture,
here nurturing the garden, here the home
where we tend other flowers– all my love,
I repeated. Forsythia, forsythia, forsythia.
But those beach days were distant, the tide slurring
softly alongside my returns from long unexplainable workdays–
all my love, I repeated. For Cynthia.
Wooden tiles tornadoed to the floor, slapping
the carpet with words we had not invented yet–
there is no remedy for lost trust. The flame
already sleeps in the bed of the mouth.
Cynthia, Cynthia. I did not know a Cynthia–
but I had never been able to name a forsythia
in the wild. The next time I see one
will feel like cheating. Nothing too-known is magical–
there is wonder in inventing nomenclature,
that a word like forsythia can only be made
in moments like anesthesia, with darkness descending
like the cigarette clouds of a severe storm when, in the drift
into a new consciousness, a lilac floats your mind’s pond–
a lilac, maybe, though that’s not what you want,
and maybe, in the distance, you see the blossoming
yellow that accompanies spring, the air golden around it–
the beauty that’s grander than words.
You wish you never learned the name for it.

(originally published in Sheila-Na-Gig Online, Spring 2017)

Sunny Days

In memory of Chris Hull

friends don’t
wait for rainy days
to die
there is never
a metaphor
in the weather
the sun laughs
as it always does
when I receive the call
I find the nearest tree
to brace myself
with shade
it’s the only darkness
seventy-six degrees
warm breeze
the car
approaching the hospital
still takes her living
to work
at being alive

 

(originally published in Muddy River Poetry Review, Spring 2017)

Broke in L.A.

The only deals I actually found in Vons
were in clearance. Beers half-off per bottle.
They’ll be ready in a box in my too-orange,
too-granite Public Storage space when I am.

Bearded teens saunter by in lumberjack caps.
I will wait for more significant events in my life
to drink the harp whose tones keep me moving.

Think about teeth– among the homeless drifters
I probably consume the most peanut M&M’S,
filling my days with processed rainbows and crunch.
How do you stop? I was at the 7th Street Metro, one a.m.,
no one there and the halls echoed in perpetuity.

Purple line for purple folk. I’m purple
from dehydration. Mixture of gravel and headspace.
Play me some ukulele. The strings react to the roar
of coming trains, twenty minutes late.

This is what I hear: my name is Grace.
I want to direct, and these are my roommates.
I realize even in the city’s darkest depths,
no one is alone, even after the dream fades.

 

(originally published in The Wagon Magazine, Autumn 2016)

Raskolnikov

the weight of an axe sleeps
between us in bed.

we dream of horses
wanting to whip us

until the stable
lives up to its name.

the pawnbroker’s hunched shadow
further crumples into shadow.

there it is, a black apple–
and your pupils, telling truths into the dark.

 

(originally published in Pudding Magazine, Winter 2016)

Ender’s Game

We were children foretold to save the world.
We made love in alleys hidden from the moon.

We calculated the trajectory of movement,
fleeing into battle rooms of weightlessness
inundated with that floating feeling
of our necessary covalence.

In our battle room at night
you could not hear chirps
or hums of passing cars.
No one heard laughter change

to scorn, our mouths throttled with heavy.

I was too young to command.
In a way, the dark alleys orbited secret histories:
time haunting the ghosts of war themselves.

We were honored with medals, golden kisses
long after we gave ourselves naked to freezing water.

We became a star unaware of emitted light.
To touch was to will ourselves to sleep,
to die knowing we had always been at war,

every word a battle without the why.

 

(originally published in The Wagon Magazine, Autumn 2016)