Before

life was Dorothy Hamill haircuts and bright white roller skates with colorful wheels,
dimples and batted eyelashes and 25c ginger ale in returnable bottles

before it became grocery store boxes of hair color and the embarrassment of paper food stamps,
30 pounds of extra weight and fingernails bit to the quick and too many crushed cans of Milwaukee’s Best Lite littering the shitty apartment

life was bruises no one could see and tear-soaked pillow cases,
reduced priced school lunches and ketchup sandwiches at home and too many unasked questions by too many people who were supposed to be doing the asking

before it became her own hands swinging and her mouth repeating and too many more tears on another generation of pillow cases,
expired milk and bare cupboards and needle tracks up arms that have hugged all the wrong people

Inertia

the rains come again,
tap-tapping at the window panes,
a symphony out-of-sync,
not unlike the fearful beating of her own heart

a familiar, creeping terror rises from a place beyond thoughts,
some innermost trap door flying open,
her instinct to leap upon and lean against it with all her might,
to padlock it shut,
but that energy has long ago evaporated

so she murmurs in a rhythm,
uttering age-old phrases that spin-cycle in her mind,
an attempt at talking herself off an unrevealed ledge,
fear pumping off her in virulent, toxic fumes

she isn’t herself,
hasn’t been for a long while;
her very smell like that of imminent winter,
brittle and airless with the heavy inertia of time

why has no one noticed?

Dry Land

I leak from a private, hidden faucet inside,
emotions continuously stroking the fiery thoughts I wish I didn’t have,
the ones I fight like hell to change

head barely above water, I tread,
arms flailing and feet pressing against, against,
against

in the vastness,
I sink down into my body as into a swamp,
where only I know the footing

it’s treacherous ground,
my own territory

as I search for dry land, I know –
I must become the sturdy earth I press my own ear against,
listening for rumors of the future

Temporary

she sat there
expecting everything to be perfectly clear
she’d done the work before, right?

but all she could think about
was how she never thought
this was going to happen

she had promised herself
she’d never be in this moment again
(nothing tastes as good as skinny feels)
yet, here she was

not at home in her body
overwhelmed by the caustic voices in her own head
not even really occupying her own skin –
she housed herself somewhere else
and she wasn’t even sure where that was

others reached out
reached in
but how can anyone really hug you or reach you
if you have a darkness that stands beside you
like an acquaintance that won’t leave

the ones she loved most reached
and even when she sliced and silenced the voices
there was less and less of her available
no matter how far she dug
and that crushed her

that’s when she finally realized –
she can never really feel at home
in a body she views as temporary

What I’m Made Of

all my life I’ve wondered what’s inside of me,
what I’m really made of

is it all hope-driven gears, creak-cranking,
squeaky with cynical grease?

or is it luminous rays of wonder and awe,
eyes, blinking and seeking love, pure and true?

is it all smoke, a fevered kiln of passing time,
age-dried straw, a mess of flaking atrophy?

or is it a not-so-flash flood, raging, rising,
the result of an aching, beating heart?

is it all waves of water and crackling fire,
opposing forces, one constantly quenching the other?

or do I simply burn for all that I am not,
for all I do not have?

-artwork by my daughter

Smile

they had all gathered to celebrate,
a room full of family from near and far,
her longing to see them equal in measure to the anxiety she felt in a crowded room,
one full of prickly expectation

she tried so hard to be the mirror others expected her to be,
but her smile was like a wound that had thickened as it healed,
nothing but rough, numb skin where nerve endings once existed

Focus

the earth rotates at a speed
of one thousand miles per hour,
while simultaneously orbiting the sun
at a speed of sixty-seven thousand miles per hour

sometimes I feel those two speeds,
acutely, in my body at once

when, beneath my feet,
the world feels spongy,
no longer solid and dependable,
but porous and deceptive

at the same time,
everything is slowly clicking into focus,
becoming crystal clear,
real, maybe for the first time