I have a thing about teeth. It was early August. We were high. We were sitting on your porch steps. Your parents were at an Italian restaurant, arguing about your father’s affair. I crushed seven ants with the toe of my Chinese slipper. You were playing with my hands, murmuring something under your breath. I wish I remember what you were saying. I think you started crying at some point, but I was focused on the ugly algae shaped clouds and the circles you were rubbing into my palms. You weren’t loud. I was wearing your summer camp t-shirt. The wood of the stairs splintered thin. “I’m sorry” “It’s not your fault” “That’s not the point.” “What is the point?” Everyone has their pool boys, their secretaries. I remember a dove, slick feathers tucked behind our ears, a shot dove falling from the algae clouds like a miracle. In that dream, you might’ve been crying. Secret: I still check your Facebook page too much. Secret: I still want you. Secret: I never wanted you. I won’t use any metaphors in this. The blossom of an exit wound. The way water can burn too. How a stump can maybe grow into a tree.
until we burn the curve of our palms.
The light at the end of the tunnel is neon
pink. A girl with dark lipstick, darker eyes
hands you a shot of dry vodka, a mirror.
Find god, she says. Leaning over a toilet bowl,
spitting out glass, wishing things were slower,
wishing it was summer, wishing you had green
apples, watermelons, grapefruit, tangerines,
wishing you could see past all the blue noise.
I pulled my teeth to lose my smile. We grin
like mouths cut wide. Break all of our eggs,
our baskets cheap wicker chairs. The light
at the end of the tunnel is soft yellow. My
burns are scabbing over, skin browning,
a bright, violent pink underneath.
the story ends like this: hands burnt the color of rotten strawberries,
a diner in jackson heights, an unwanted child who drank sap from a dying tree.
i stared like a broken horse, eyes watery and pink, the sun through the window like a bright wound. you said reasonable things. the money was in an envelope. i wanted you to lick it shut, to cut your tongue on the edge, see if you could feel pain too.
hands burnt the color of mid-July peaches from the tree in my grandmother’s yard. my uncle tore it down a couple years ago. no one mourned, really. you were careful not to use upsetting words. said your sister would take me, that the place was in brooklyn, that no one would know.
i stared like a broken horse into the hollow of a gun, eyes watery and pink. you rubbed my palms with your warm hands. i didn’t cry when you peeled back raw skin.
A lesson in lung capacity, in tears streaked
like a windshield. How hungry winter was.
Broke into apartments,
slept in kitchen sinks, in mouse holes.
Kept snow in our back pockets, eyes burnt
out like city lights. I took the scenic route
each night, broke Corona bottles outside bars
with no names, smeared faces. Fingers sticky with lime
juice. It was easier, then.
Hands coated in flour, honey tongues bit by wasps,
hornets with yellowing bodies crawling from the bathtub,
from the back of my throat. Dry mouth for months.
Found gifts in medicine cabinets, in forgotten mothers.
The spine of a woman who can’t remember
her first name. A mattress, gutted and gagged,
pulled down stairs like a body.
I once swallowed a fish spine.
It should have choked me but it didn’t.
Slow things: lake water, thin ice,
a girl renamed Ophelia.
You should come over.
Quick things: a film reel turned splotchy,
black at the edges like cancer. Dog bones
carved deep like the path of a forest. My aunt
told me it was little red’s fault, with her teeth
and her tongue and her words.
I haven’t seen you in forever.
Come over around 10? We could
order from that diner you like.
I learn more about people from their
shadows. That diner, shots of expresso
in enormous coffee cups. Knees jolting together.
Through the window, the city, smeared. Funny,
how things get smaller when we want them to.
I miss your smell. Like the beach.
Mojitos. Coconut. Remember last summer?
I’ll call a cab, just, just come over. Please.
I smile like a dog baring it’s teeth.
Bee hives too. On the inside of my mouth.
They sting. I couldn’t kiss you if I tried
A man stands in the checkout line
for 12 hours, stacking egg cartons
until they topple over and collapse.
In my country, this is not guilt,
children toppling over, broken glass
on marble sidewalks, smooth fingers tight
in a fist. A boy cries, blood in his hair,
a tooth in his palm. The other pockets
a crumpled bill, the equivalent of three dollars.
Small victories. Like spoiled raspberries,
like windowless houses, I watched
a cat give birth in my front yard,
kill one kitten to feed another.
In my country, this is not guilt.
Hunger like an empty drawer. Hunger like three pennies short. A wooden chair in a flooded basement. Underwater now, smiling with bright teeth. No coughing. We’ll be finches tomorrow morning. Hunger like Ma in the bathroom, door half shut, bloody nose, powder on her fingers. I swallowed three pearls, gutted a clam. Toddlers say, pretty birdie. Hunger like a door pockmarked. A 97’ Corolla, a gas station, a parking lot, an abandoned lot, 11pm, moon creeping through the windows. Baby please, she says, stop. Hunger like peeling floorboards, like a horror movie. Boo, says the toddler, says the ghost, says the finch.
Late June, grass lush like pretty brown girls,
like Vietnam. Tan hips on a beach, the sun
orange and pregnant.
No, that’s a different poem.
In this one, children sell citrus on the streets,
mouths sour and ripe. This is an exploration in grief.
Lake house sugar,
reading the same chapter of the same book
or two years in a overgrown tree house,
vines like barbed wire, climbing roses,
sticks of dynamite in the freezer like popsicles.
I learned to live in a place
that splintered itself. My father made rocking
chairs for a living. It was almost natural. You ripped
chunks out of the sofa, the sun melting butter on my legs.
Cracking me beneath your teeth like sunflower seeds.
You kept our kitchen knives beneath the mattress
like my mother and her gold. I bought lemons from
a pretty-eyed boy with bubblegum lips,
an apple pie and baseball heart, all that good American shit.
Winter is the season of burnt tongues.
Salt and ice on the back of your hand.
You peel the skin off and I count piano key bones.
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