This is how I tell you.
I buy well-worn cliches from consignment shops and string them together like the popcorn garlands I used to make with my mother in December. But it is summer, and there is nothing homemade about these flimsy, candy-floss quotes, so I do not give them to you. They are shoved into the drawer next to my desk, to live next to the collections of processed love poems and sugared films in which they were first found. I have a habit of hoarding these sorts of mass-produced thoughts—they never seem to take up too much space, until I realize there are entire factories in my voice box, and I can no longer hear myself speak.
I read your letter some time ago, on a slow morning, when I woke up to a silence in my head that felt more permanent than anything I had ever made for myself. You left it in scraps—sentences beneath tables, entire paragraphs on closet doors, laughter on the side of my refrigerator. I read your letter, and the silence that folded itself over me afterwards was your arms, warm around my rib cage. That silence, tattooed across my eardrums. I never wanted to listen to anything else.
When I was younger, I used to carry around other people’s love stories—my cheeks stuffed full of stolen jokes and grocery store kisses—I used to think having them with me meant I would always have something to say (real or not) if anyone ever asked me about my story. You did not ask me, though. You wrote.
I am too many people right now. You say a conversation with me is like searching a crowd to figure out who is calling your name. I wish you did not have to look so hard to find me. (I wish I did not have to look so hard to find me.)
You will learn that most of me is made up of wrong turns and dead ends. These are places I will not hide from you. We are unfinished roads trying to make a city, and this is where our raw ends will meet.
I do not know when you will read this, but this is a piece, sorted or unsorted (I am still not sure), found beneath the flyers full of “I don’t know”s I have been handing out in place of confessions. I could not tell you what this is, but I know this is how I tell you.
I hope it’s enough.
it takes five weeks for skin cells to reach our surfaces,
and by then, they are already dead.
you told me once, that you were not in the business
of mapping out other people’s hearts.
instead you wrote guidebooks
to the trails of freckles running over nose bridges, the roads
carved by flesh kissing flesh, the laugh lines
that could be fault lines and lifelines all at once,
because those smiles were the only earthquakes
you wanted to feel bone-deep—lips shifted so fast
they broke plates and reset spines, and left you
looking for new grounds every time you got back up.
the skin is our largest organ, you wrote. it is three layers before
we bleed, and we only ever hold the deadest parts of us
out for all to see. each day is a million skin cells dropped
from a body—ghost touches free at last
to reunite with other people’s expired pieces.
they meet on lips and hands and over-worn t-shirts.
they run down drains. they dust the bookshelves
sagging on our walls.
you’ve come to the conclusion that this is our way of expanding,
the way the universe too, is always growing outwards.
we leave our old faces and used handshakes everywhere we go,
so that we can say we are more than the span of our two arms.
we are hangers full of loose ends, we are trillions.
this is the most contained we will ever be.
you could never understand how the heart became a fad,
why people spent their whole lives speculating about their insides,
when there was already so much to see on our new-dead skin
without having to split ourselves in two.
you could be right up against my ear, a wall of sound that tells me everything that lays beyond your pulse, and still i would feel as though you weren’t close enough. sometimes i cannot stand the thought of everyone stuck inside their own bodies, because you could send dozens of letters down daisy chains of people and never get the same words out. all i’ve ever done is watch for entries and exits, and maybe place bets on who’s coming back for the second act. people get lost too easily after they’ve left. on wikipedia, there is list of individuals who have lived at airports for more than one week. at the end of the page, it tells me to “see also, statelessness,” and i think it would not be so bad, to live like that. at least inside airports, they have signs telling everyone where they are and where they ought to be. it is a space built to house the displaced, a rest stop where we wait for the next. in everything else, we are left groping through the dark, tripping over people’s breaths and trying so hard to keep our own contained. we are walls of sound lined up in parallel, everyone hearing each other all at once, and not one able to do anything about it.
I am messy. My thoughts are dirty lingerie strewn across frowning bed sheets. I’ve lost metaphors in the middle of subway stations, and there are daydreams of mine spray-painted on the sides of buildings nobody looks at anymore. I’ve populated an entire town with disposable words. My home is a rest stop where missing things go before they disappear.
They tell me this is a hoarder heart. Every chamber is a landfill. My doctor thinks I am a heart attack waiting to happen. I tell him it is only a side effect to an addiction, and clearing you from my system all at once would probably kill me anyway. I could not say how you happened. I only know how it ends.
There are still stories of us, dried kisses pressed between books and first fights crumpled like paper fists, lingering like old news beside the door. They’ve been there for weeks—I’ve forgotten which day the garbage man comes. I wish I could cut myself out of my skin and let him take that too. I live in an abandoned house. My hands have not been washed in weeks; layers of grime cling to palms you once held.
she collected scars the way people collected sea glass, or poems, or kisses—beautiful things tucked like love letters beneath origami skin, under the fold of a knuckle, the crease of an eyebrow, the bitten piece of your dimpled knees.
you tell me you will never leave,
but i do not believe in infinities.
there is an expiration date to your words,
and i am so afraid of the day
you toss your promises into the trash and leave
me sifting through the landfills of spent breath
for even so much as a skeleton
of that rotten hope.
there is a waste land in my chest.
i can no longer see where the decay
ends and my body begins. maybe,
Because there is something about the way the bone-white
darkness stretches across your wrinkled sheets, as if it were
meeting the curves and indents of your stolen outline for the first time.
Because it reads the story of your leaving like it is Braille, and every
rise and fall etched across those covers is nothing more
than a retelling of old news. Because it makes perfect sense
when it is laid out against the light of this blanched night.
Because the bed looks stripped even though it is still full of you—
even though there is nothing missing from it except for you.
Because it holds your form better than I ever could.
my hands have dried
to the point
where they are branches
on a skeleton tree.
is cracked bark and split
knuckles. i look like a fight,
my fingers play the massacre
and the bloodshed
is all my own.
i used to think
that i could cover
up your wrongs
with lines of red ink
shaped like “love, love”
every time, as if cursive
the percentage of our failures
matter a little bit less.
but i remember
a midnight made for sugared
stars and cold walks, instead
blacked out and buried
under the image of a girl
embracing the stop sign
at the end of your street (the first
to learn the weight
of your indifference),
because it was
the only thing keeping
her from running
out of the arms she
used to call safety—
she wanted the safety off
her fingers have played
and the red
on her palms read
bleeding from them.
her hands are dead limbs
falling out of
do i wait until it is at its worst, then push it sharp and fast,
because the bigger they are, the harder they
or do i hold it close, play like love ‘til the lone hours of the night
and tiptoe soft, soft away when it is resting, quiet and paper-fine
against my rib cage, when most of me is cloud cover and warm
tea and echoes in my head?
when it is sitting at its least cruel—is this when i start running?
or should i face it, greet it in all my singular reflections, look it
in the eye and watch it dissolve into my skin? should i wait
for my heart to consume it the way drainpipes swallow water? will it
be gone for good, once it is dispersed through the marrow and the
blood, diluted to obscurity? will i feel it like needles or dust,
numbness or nothing?
will it be stuck on me, no matter what i do? will it stay
—until i lose me too?
the skin beneath my eyes is smudged black, and my head
is full of sand. my lips are torn and bitten dry. they still
tremble from the aftermath of a sob i never let loose. my body
is a bruise in the shape of your hands.
and i feel nothing at all.