Enigmatic as elbows
you are for me
like carrots and kale
and unswept slivers of glass —
small and overlooked
sharp as a morning mind.
I am here so you can learn to do for yourselves:
tenderly turn through books
hold a plate one hand on each side
your slight shoulders back
feet steady and slow
guiding with heels that base
not debase. Put your nose to my ear.
those exquisite exhales
long and calm through the bends
of everyone else’s emotions
and it is work not to make it
all about us obsessed as we are with ourselves.
I know only what it is to be me —
rich in retrospection
in search of something
stronger than oxygen, two
and a half decades deep
in pineapple skin, adrift this
celestial toilet bowl, this plague, a page ripped
from the middle of a mother who meant well.
the blood between my legs
spills like wine
grab your umbrella
your long-stemmed glass
this is life
holding a hand
to its ear
I was raised on a gospel
three beers in
when I met you
it felt like opening a gift
don’t be so slow
to trust in hands
don’t be so slow
in trucks, in cabs, use
uber, tinder, grinder
whatever with weather
this drunk, we can
finally afford to
let go —
like the collapsible
belly of knees a
tired of tending herself
like a wreck to be swept
from the road, skin
caked in chagrin
I was told of sin in my flesh
but when I look at my tits
I see only teacups, pure
and pale, sweetly pulling
the interstate sideshow over
my worth measured
traversing through Tennessee
we came, hand
in hand, with weather
so level, how can we be
anything but devout —
heavy in grass
beneath a stag reel sky
If every excuse me
evokes an instant
apology, let this softly
To change your thoughts, your must first change your actions
Tend to small things with
great care. Rocks lodged in dry earth.
Wounds too deep to parse.
Mantra with consideration
Consider her blind
spots. The space between knowing
and wishing to know.
Before roosting in the city, starlings dive—
five thousand deep in flock. Like cells they follow the
law of localization. Bound by surroundings. Step into a
crowded elevator and take on the expression of
those around you. We are all rehearsing something.
Every Sunday I follow my hunger to the grocery store. My
partner rinses the vegetable drawer clean of last week. Did you know
the spread of aggression can be charted like a yacht or like
an infectious disease? We are all consumed by something. Once
I was a dancer and would spend days alone in a room lined
in mirrors mining rhythm from my limbs, as if
the only way to know my breath was to know what count the
tempo demanded. Can you imagine, truly spontaneous movement
performed en masse? The mass twists and inverts and leaps from
one end of sky to the other like freckles fading in and out
upon your skin across the seasons.
No two birds collide.
I was 10 when I told my mom I wanted to be a singer.
It should have been no surprise. I took dance classes and regularly performed at malls, orchards, and in front of morning assembly at my elementary school. I was comfortable in the role of performer, and while I never sang in front of my mom like I did alone or with friends, I felt sure she knew.
My mother is the performer-type as well, but she lacked the opportunity to explore those interests until her twenties when she sought out jazz and tap dance classes. She only stuck with them for a few years before swapping them out for horse shows and then that for motherhood.
She mentioned her unseized dreams often when we were together in the car. A song would come on, and toward the end, she would announce, In my head, I can envision an entire routine to this. I can sing like that in my mind.
I have never seen my mother dance, but I have often heard her sing. At church, she belted louder than the other mothers in the pews, yet she never joined the choir. At home, lullabies flowed from her lips long after my brother and I were through with nursery. Her voice was sweet and low, like mine, a little scratchy and full of confidence that would come to rub me the wrong way as I reached adolescence.
My mother loved to listen to other women sing too — Joni, Celine, Reba, and Dolly. She especially loved talent yet to be discovered. An underdog. Someone going somewhere. At school, where my mother worked as the guidance counselor, she favored a young singer named Kenny.
Nearly half my size, Kenny was two years my senior with hair that reached well past her middle. She would stand alone in front of the entire school, a speck on the large white assembly floor, and open her mouth to a tidal wave of sound. My mother fawned. You better get her autograph! How does such a tiny girl create such an enormous sound?
While I have never been tiny, I have spent much of my life trying to minimize the space I take. As a girl, I slouched and spoke in soft, uncertain murmurs. I started my first diet at eight and beat my thighs in private disgust.
I felt most at home in my skin when dancing. When my limbs would merge with music and muscle memory would override thought. I was no longer trapped within my body but moved beyond it. I felt certain that singing in front of others would feel even better. With dancing, you are moving within someone else’s words, someone else’s music, but when you are singing, you are the music.
Some girls confide in their mothers the most mundane of things, but I kept my burdens to myself until one afternoon, in our beat-up Dodge Ram on the way home from my mother’s aerobics class, I said it. It balanced like a castle of cards in the air between us hovering amid the humidity and sweat. She found my eyes in the rearview mirror, her mouth a small, tight line, and I knew it had been a mistake.
She explained it was not like in the movies. It was not easy. It would not be easy for me. She did not elaborate, and I did not think to ask why. I felt ashamed for having spoken such a silly thing, and as my mother turned her attention back to the road, I looked out the window and held my silence like a consolation prize.
Then one day in third grade music class, Mr. Hamm announced we would each take turns auditioning for the choir. I sat on a small stool before his piano and stared down at my thighs spreading out from their tight cotton shorts. It all felt too much, and so as the music began, I braided my voice with the pitch rolling off the piano keys. I did not want to be rejected.
He stopped playing, met my eyes, and insisted, Sing louder. I tried to forget my thighs, the classmates behind me, my mother’s tight lips. I raised my voice, and his face softened. He let me in.
Soon after, with Mr. Hamm’s encouragement, I auditioned for and received the leading role of Sally Swordfish in the school musical, “A Fish Tale.” The role was heavy on lines and light on singing, but I loved it. I wanted more. When my dad told me the local theater was holding auditions for Annie, something inside me bubbled over — some feeling of possibility, of abundance.
That weekend, my dad took me to the store to buy a tape to practice singing along with. I had no training, no concept of my range, and so I picked out Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On.”
We got home, and as I was racing up the stained carpet stairs to pop the tape into my machine, I overheard heated voices from the kitchen. My mother’s ringing out in indignation, You should have told me first! This is a terrible idea. She will be humiliated.
The abundance fizzled. I drooped to my room and cried more than I practiced, and later, when my dad came to tell me it was time for the audition, I went along as if nothing had happened. At the theater, I saw girls with booming voices, perfectly proportioned limbs, and confident smiles beaming out to moms in the crowd. During my turn on stage, as the music began to play, all I could hear were my mother’s words.
I lifted my voice — that inch-high contralto, undeveloped and wavering — and felt like a fraud. I got that shit over with as quickly as I could and slunk off-stage into my father’s warm embrace. We went for ice cream and did not talk about singing or feelings. We did not talk at all.