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name me snake
but look close: my hands
have lifted your sons for eons.
i picked them, every time love
broke my spare parts spine to tend
your garden.
you think it a sin i lost my way.

there was no will, no forked
tongue, no crisp remorse.
name me spite, you made me
second, you made me
silent, you made
a fearsome enemy.

i knew long before
the sweet juice on my chin:
your love was not ours
to have. you would have let
him stomp me to ash, i knew
even then.

call me a gift
but i will not be given
or taken, discarded
bruised, or cored.
my breasts of worms
will not be dressed in
leaves or left behind.
my insides belong to
my daughters.
you are not welcome here.

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in between us
with IOUs and high interest bank loans,
believing that closing the space could close the space

believing in steel and gerder
in rivet in rust in suspension.

Can you tell I’m being poignant?
In the absence, I am trying show a strength we know
I don’t have. But my shoulders
widen a little every day,
stretch to span the space.
one day I can lie
face down in the ocean
and the fingertips of my left hand
may touch the dirt you roused on your morning run and that will be
something.

Text
by the battlefield of Tuesday, bearing breakfast
teeth bared, barely breathing,
the cement in your lungs still soft.

In small ways, you tell
the story of your fingertips: soft touch
on holly leaves, the tiny drops of blood,
the parts of you you don’t count 
when you count the parts.
The sum of what you left behind. To live
is to be marked by the body of your mother
and the feet of your children. To be eaten alive
by yourself all the time, every second-hand tock
a tooth mark, the way you recall your skin in the dark.

To live is to be scraped in big ways
by big love like Cain’s love
by seared flesh, by twisted arms
and ringing ears and pen marks and straight lines

to live like a finger prick,
like a cat-scratch screaming match,
like a hangnail apology.

I am made of cement but I am not
yet dry. There are handprints and names
in my face, in my thighs.
There is strength in that which is
scarred, my body a prologue in Braille.
(Title from Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible)
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I like to imagine
a long, scrolling will,
a grand apology, a currency admission
of guilt and loneliness and shame

but I know there will be none
of that, and I will stand up
and not laugh, and not accuse
or elicit gasps or applause or embarrassment.
Instead, I’ll tell the story
of the two shot guns sharing the closet
during hide and seek,
the way you told us they were toys
the way we nearly died from the excitement
the small lies and small hands you
didn’t think through in the bedroom closet
between the Christmas presents and the old shoes. 

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I am not a snake,
because I have these big cracked hands,
because I cannot shed my skin so quickly.
I am not the awkward amends
in a high school yearbook.
I am not a cop’s baton
or his nightmares. I am
not the poet asking what it all means.
I am not what it all means. 

I am not the chipped lust
red nail polish on the toenails of that toddler.
I am not the misspelled words
in that letter you can’t send
because you don’t know the address
of the motel where they found her
cutting off her eyelids in the moldy bathroom mirror.
I am not the mistake you’ve blamed
on your parents for too long. 
I am not the face that launched
anything. I am not the road kill rolled over 
and over in rush hour, the bowtied stomach
of what is no longer a deer.
I am not the smirk of a tiger or
the dust settling after the bombs drop. 

I am not the earth welcoming
the new flesh of children back to me
as weeds or oak trees.
I am not missing the point.
I am not the point. Do not
look to me, or expect me to flicker
or shine, or give you a sign.
I am not a road test
or a road map. 
My mouth is not your rest stop.

I am not the thin ink that clings
to the pages that resuscitate you.
I am not the phone call from the neighbors,
or the banging, broken shutters
or the cellar door. I am not 
the wind in the trees, speaking.
When I die, I will not be
the wind in the trees speaking.
I will be dead. Do not misquote me. 
I am not the warm melody 
of a lullaby or the training wheels
still spinning; I don’t make
that kind of safety safely. 

I am not fight
or flight
or any chemical handshake.
I am not the life you run from
or the life you run to
or the warm muscles you run with
or the warm asphalt that
won’t give. I am not any
of the shapes you pray to.

I am not the holes your father left
in the walls or the haphazard
patches, the mesh and the spackle,
the mark they left. 
I am not the handle he flew off of, or
the handle of an iron, the handle
of a frying pan, of a tea kettle,
of a back door, or
the handle you have on some
ghost of a reality.

What I am, maybe, is the stutter
of a crime scene witness, the
twitch-tremble of seeing things
for what they are.

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I.

because somebody didn’t write you love letters,
you wrote yourself love letters.
because no one tucked you into bed,
you kissed your fingers, pressed them to your head.
because flowers didn’t grow in your backyard,
you drew eden on the bones in your arms. 

II.

i am out of context,
sweeping
my mistakes under the concrete,
bending
to the asphalt to taste

the dirt from the shoes of
someone
whose steps have closed the canyon. the
worst thing
is knowing how far we

have not  come. how many
million
miles wide the earth is, how short
my arms
look, and i have stumbled

so many times. and how am
i meant
to drag my own twisted feet through
rubble
and more rubble and more?


III.

maybe you would say, sweetie
no one expects you to
feel the teeth gnash bone grind,
the earthquake stomps,
the limp wrist, the shriveling
oceans. no one is
asking you to carry that many bricks
cross-country, to sew    
the birches back into their roots,
to caulk the fissures
along the fault lines.

but i do, and i swallow it
and it swallows me.

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Figure I’ll die before I’ve stomped myself into dry dirt.
Figure the ocean will spit me back up
and swallow me again. Do I taste like sugar?
Like sweat, like stomach acid, empty spaces,
knives, copper, linen, song?
Figure a sunny day,
when my knees bend backward,
I will be a luggage-fit,
carry on.


Figure the sun
will char me to bone, make me ashes
to dust, to gunpowder, god fodder,
chopped and chewed. Soon I will peel
my skin, slide it back
over bone, moving muscles, stretching,
sinewy. Figure the world will end
while we’re sleeping, save us
the trouble of trying to run.
Figure a god knows what we’re hiding from,
why we’re set-jawed, eyes wide.

And are you opening closing your mouth,
tongue clicking Morse Code, tucking
your knees, bending yourself, shrinking
yourself, folding into bite-size? Let
a god lose you. Be a dust mite.
Be a chip in the Great Wall,
be what you are: be small.

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I am eating sand like an ostrich
sand between crooked teeth
in split lip ground in sand
in my nostrils inhale breathe in
small grains hundreds exhale.
Don’t exhale.
Sand in my ears creep past
sand past my eardrums into my
brain sand
between my synapses
misfire neuron tentacles
cells stuffed with sand
grinding against brainstem
sand in my eyes
sand freckles in my iris sand
stuffed into my tear ducts
blink sand blink sand blink
sand warm coarse
on my cheeks sand
softening my senses sand
muffling monsters
sand in my lungs sand
sliding down my throat
gurgling and giggling
tasting the earth and savoring
the silence.

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We are shadows.
Stacking shades of grey,
Building shadows and
Mismatched scrambled jigsaw pieces and
Empty thank you cards
And “shut up” goodbyes.


You are pitching a dark, black-eye dark.
I am trying to find the moon,
The wrap-around,
The timed tides. You’re
Pulling wool and spinning a monster
Dark, smiling at nightmares.

What about morning?
Do you think the day will break
In, rob us blind,
Sunspots in our eyes and empty-handed?
Do I believe the morning dew
Is cold sweat or confessions?
Is the sunrise sheepish,
Wishing to start somewhere else,
Wake up a better early bird,
Without so many broken bones?

We’re carved out of shadows,
Exhaling shadows,
Mismatched like grinding a sky piece
Into an ocean space.
I don’t know where the light belongs.  

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There’s a thud in that hurricane room,
then small feet fast on pavement.
Small steps across the huge street.
There are slinking neighbors,
so many hands.
Quick speech, small words,
no sirens.
There are night lights, roses,
small feet tip-toeing shapes in the backyard sand,
leftovers for dinner, and bruises.