There’s a leak in our bathroom sink
and I’ve had a fan blowing for two days,
as my aunt’s fancy kitchen towels brine in musty water.
It blows a brisk breeze on my bare calves –
my skirt billowing out around my ankles,
puddled on the floor,
with my berserk little hormones
borrowing into the floor under my feet.
My breasts hang low and drag across
the peel and stick tile
until my bloodshot eyes finally focus
and find the bleak little ray of light –
shining simply because it’s switched on.
They call it breakthrough bleeding
and I know it means I’ve lost you somewhere in this dilapidated bathroom.
You have scattered your cells across the pad floating,
on the floor between my feet.
They call it breakthrough bleeding,
but it’s really a leak
and the floor’s gone soggy,
so one wrong move
and I’m tumbling down with you.
The first time I left you alone you were lying milk-drunk
against the soft flesh of my mother’s chest.
I had taken one of the samples from the changing table,
its color too bright yellow,
its compact shape too round,
its label screaming epitaphs,
“Better for brain development!”
“Easy on sensitive stomachs!”
I felt the pale mounds under my baggy, frumpy tee –
two sponges, ripe with nerves.
I showed my mother how to prepare the formula.
I thought briefly about staying.
I thought briefly about canceling my appointment.
I thought briefly about throwing my breast pump
and every failed attempt along with it
right out the broad bay window out front.
I focused instead on restraint.
And five hours later,
when my breasts roared with leonine intensity
and solitary arms ached to feel your weight in them,
I lifted you to me,
nuzzled you close,
and you turned
I learned early to avoid your gaze.
Survival comes from looking down at my feet,
amplifying every stretch of my ankle,
angling my body to the side,
as if the mere act of shifting myself for you
would give you enough space to ignore my existence.
I would agonize over my bangs,
drag them down to cover light, almond eyes.
Hiding in plain sight was always an arduous process.
I used my skin, an atypical artifice, as a Halloween mask
and abracadabra –
The average human being blinks 28,800 times a day.
Supposedly, it’s more often than we need to.
Supposedly, we do it so much, because it provides a mental break.
Supposedly, blinking is how we refresh, reboot, rest.
But there you are.
You have implanted yourself in my offscreen movie.
You’ve folded into the material of my mind,
become part of my neurochemistry,
so that with every rapid blink of my eyes
I see your face.
I see your face,
streaked as an amaryllis.
I see your face,
like an escapist from your body,
peeking out from the broken beast.
My memory is an old black and white film
and I keep playing the sequence over and over,
like I’m pulling through the negatives of film I never want to see in print.
I drove to the gas station as if nothing untoward had happened,
as if you hadn’t changed the dynamic of my brain,
as if I the mud and blood and gas and debris stuck to my shoes was part of the actual design,
as if you weren’t in my sock and I wasn’t going to have to throw all my clothes away when I got home.
My car was on ‘E’
and when the mellow scent of gas hit me,
floating in a translucent cloud above the pump
I hit my knees
vomit sliding up my throat
and I blinked and blinked and blinked.
I have new soap that makes my skin slick,
makes my hair smell like some trip through an orange grove
or a bottle of Pin-sol spilled under the bathroom sink.
I have new burgundy nail polish
and I have propped my foot up on the table
and stretched across myself to bend
and I have swept the small brush across each and every toe
except my smallest one
where the nail is all but gone.
I have applied some shimmery, toning lotion
in hurried, circular sweeps
under each dark-circled eye.
I am covering the void in my heart
with a Younique eye pallet.
I’m hiding my empty virtues
with a smoky eye and Snow White’s red apple lips,
because this is the generation of the selfie
and I am only 83 photos
and three filters away
I don’t need fragile smoke whispers
slipping past my eyelashes
and hanging as beads of sweat at the hollow of my neck.
I have forgotten who I am.
I need the molten mocha of your eyes
to burn through the butterflies of doubt.
I need pupils dilated,
I need you close as ivy, grasping on the legs of my pale skinned veranda.
I am a foreigner in my own skin
and I don’t need your swaying, sultry song.
I need you to scream my name into the back of my throat.
Make me remember
who I am.
Sometime, in the damp, dusky hours before dawn
you laid your thick fingered hand on the glass
and watched your breath collect in little blossoms of clouds.
You traced around the wings of a long-dead, summer fly
trapped between the screen and the door,
and with a swipe of your palm
you vanquished the sky-scape you had created
and wiped your wet hands on your flannel shirt.
Compulsion led you to doing and undoing –
each little black button a snapshot of your mutation.
In and out, in and out.
Your brain building the city it would roam today
and each slip of your heavy fingers was a head-on collision, right into the wall
and it left you –
standing there at the crossroads of
Memory and Language.
Your tongue filling your mouth,
belting out a lonely tune
against the back of your teeth.
Your mind a candle in a parade –
lit and bright,
flickering and fading,
gasping at the air as the winter wind
pushed and shoved
and swept you up off your feet.
I wanted to safeguard your flame,
to carry you in your disease –
like knowing the name would make speaking it easier.
Like if you knew the date of today
or the words on your cereal box
or who the man in the bathroom mirror was staring back at you,
that you’d suddenly evolve
from candle to lightbulb.
You’d burn brighter,
and we could just flip you on
whenever we wanted you back.
Maybe it was sibling rivalry –
a natural need to one-up the other,
so that when the dawn rose on my shenanigans
you stopped at said,
I can do better.
I suppose you waited until I left Never Never Land,
waited until they shoved a gun into your hand,
waited until they shipped you to a desert
and made you a real man.
The clamor of change rang loud between us
with a twelve-hour long labor and the first cries from tiny purple lips,
with an attack on the road
and it was your birthday.
You called to tell me how their heads exploded
and I told you how she had learned to sit up.
Someone must have flicked the channel
from Family Matters to a random shuffle.
We never know what we are going to get.
These days, I’m about as exciting as raspberry jam on toast
and you are a firing squad of emotions –
random feelings sprayed against the wall
until something hits,
You are a rock opera –
a whole story singing out into the darkness
and I am a goldfish
with a three second memory
and a tiny bowl to call home.
I want to compose starlight for you.
I want to write a new script.
I want to show you the map and each step I took
because coming out of Never Never Land is an ugly thing
and you’re trapped in there,
in a never-ending war.
You’ve beaten me now.
Your better at tragedy than I ever was.
I have never had the desire to be background music for anyone.
I have too strong of a desire to hit the high notes.
I want to captivate,
in stunning silence.
I want to please
without ever having to open my lips.
I want your awestruck envy
pooling as heavy smoke
running parallel my little pink tongue.
I want your nerves lit,
fireworks spilling their guts in the night.
I want, I want, I want…
The porcelain sink gurgles when the water splashes
and slips from the ends of my fingers
down the drain.
It has a drowsy drip
that echoes around this room
with its green wallpaper
and too bright pink roses peeling where they meet the ceiling.
There is a supple bend in the way you walk now,
as if someone has slipped in unnoticed
and upset the balance of your spine,
has stolen a single vertebrae
and left you unspooling out
vomiting the threads of all you were
across the yellowed tile of this bathroom floor.
The box they have brought to bury your son in
is too small and too white and
it shines so clean by the alter that I think you have not touched it.
I cannot walk down the aisle.
I cannot seem to leave this stall
and I stare at your white shoes with the little kitten heel
and the way your toes are pointed in at one another,
as if they were in conversation about the trip they must make –
down the aisle,
across the grass,
to the place where the green turf is rolled out
and the small mound of dirt is fermenting in the sun.
It is too bright today to bury a boy,
and so we will stay in this stall
and hide under the bright fluorescent lights.
We will stay here, where your shoes are all I can see
and where there is nothing more
than a drowsy drip in a porcelain sink
and roses peeling from the ceiling.