I can’t say no

A hospital waiting room

full of silent sickness

— a sour, curdled space. 

Meaningless sex. 

Distrustful, hesitant, weary breaths

hang in-between careless caresses.

I’m aware that if I breathe in too deep,

our slinking loneliness and desperation

might curdle me too.

So I become the bed

the sweaty sheets wrapping 

over your desolate thighs. 

I don’t think I like 

the way your mouth tastes, 

but I kiss you back anyway.

I’m a patient, 

waiting for my name to be called.

For some recognition of my 

fragile, fragile identity. 

Winter’s calm

Nighttime in winter, overlooking a part of the city that’s packaged as a moment of movement. I look out at the church across the street, illuminated entrance casting echoes of darkness along the cool earth. 

People still walk around the church, the library, the center square. Although it’s nighttime, it’s also only 4 p.m. Winter condenses the daylight into a few frozen hours, and that’s when the precious sun rays melt through the thick ice that holds the city in a deep breath. But now the darkness has claimed motion once again, and I watch the city slow down, a windup toy succumbing to the stillness.

If I were to take out my camera and record, this is where I’d do it: different voices slow into a sleepy mirage, made even slower by the chills of winter.  

Everyone I know says their least favorite time of year is wintertime. But I think that there’s a quiet beauty in watching the city sleep.

Behind me on the steps, a couple holds each other’s hands. Leaning into one another; sharing their warmth throughout. I’m sitting by myself in front of the library, and it just closed for the evening. My breath fogs my glasses, blurring the lines between buildings and smearing their lights into the empty, icy sky.

In one of the busiest areas of the city, I’m transfixed in winter’s calm. 

Grandma’s puzzles

As a kid, I spent hours digging through puzzles with my grandma. Putting together old-timey soda shop parlors and Rockwell Thanksgiving suppers.

Her wrinkled, careful, thoughtful fingers handed me a piece and always seemed to know the exact one I needed.

Over time, the jigsaw puzzle became its own form of communication. 

My grandpa recently retired, finally letting his aching bones rest after a long lifetime of labor. 85 years old, the majority of them spent on blue-collar jobs. He almost seemed afraid of retiring, afraid of allowing himself to exist in his own space. 

Last week, he did his first puzzle ever with my grandma. Letting her wrinkled, careful, thoughtful fingers hand him a piece. 

If he had done a puzzle with her sooner, I wonder if he would have retired so late in life. I wonder if he would have loved my grandma differently, sharing himself within her simple, unspoken love. 

Shame

When I first broke up with my boyfriend of over two years, I felt immense shame. Not because of anything either of us said or did, but because I loved him so deeply as a friend. 

He’d been there for me through some of the most traumatic shit in my life so far, walking me through the raging flames of my mind with a fire extinguisher strapped to his back, helping me calm down the heat as best as he could. 

Then I crossed over the river, the burns cooled and healed—both literally and metaphorically— and I realized something.

I don’t know when it happened, but at some point in our relationship, my path diverted from his. The growth each of us had gone through throughout our time together had caused us to shape into different places. Which would be ok, people come and go throughout life, and it became clear to me that our paths were meant to stay diverged romantically. 

But, shame hung heavy on my shoulders long after we broke up. 

The shame stemmed from the idea that if you find a partner who’s a good person, a truly good and caring person who loves you for who you are, you should hold onto them with both hands gripped tightly around their torso. As a female assigned at birth, I had deeply internalized this narrative. Who knows when you’d find another good person to love romantically? What if you leave this person and then end up with someone who verbally, emotionally, and/or physically abuses you? 

The unpredictability of being romantically vulnerable has scared generations of women and f.a.b. people into settling into unsatisfactory relationships. This person loves you and is a good person, and no, they may not be meeting your romantic needs, but at least you know they won’t try to hurt you. 

I didn’t realize that this was a common phenomenon when I first broke up with him. All I felt was my individual shame, the guilt of leaving someone who I knew would love me unconditionally. But the more I vocalized my experience, the more I found other f.a.b. people who resonated with this. 

I believe it’s natural to be heartbroken over breaking somebody’s heart who you love; it’s difficult but necessary growth for many relationships. But the shame. The shame makes me reflect, inspires me to write. 

It felt, on some subconscious level, that I owed him my romantic love. He had been there when the flames seemed to create an impenetrable barrier around me, and he loved me with deep sincerity, which meant (to my mind) that I owed him my heart. As I found more people who shared a similar experience to me, I realized that the shame didn’t stem from my relationship in particular. Rather, the systemic depreciation of feminine identities has caused a foundational rift in our value as human beings worthy of love… Yet again. Thank you patriarchy. 

So no, I didn’t owe him my love. And if you’re reading this and resonate with this, neither do you. In the same way there will always be bad people who will try and hurt you, there will always be good people who will love you for who you are, romantically or platonically.

Sunset

I always write poems in motion:

a man spilling his coffee,

wind currents dancing with a flower petal,

or listening to love in a public place.

But you paint our moments,

capturing our memories with your colors.

You make me wait,

hold my breath for the next stroke of your brush on canvas.

Only then do I truly see the importance of stillness.

You see the world the way it was meant to be seen;

through iridescent waves of bright oranges and deep purples.

You’re my sunset,

so no matter where I go I’ll always have you on my horizon.

And when I don’t know where I am: lost, confused, and afraid

you paint me a map

that leads me home.