His twitch. His gaptooth. His meathook hands. His whiskey.
His cocaine. His lie. His momma. His lie. His girl. His lie. His lie.
His mask. His blame. His finger-point. His backstab. His loyal. His game.
His drunk. His spill. His fool. His freeload. His pass-out.
His breath. His dirt socks. His hole jeans. His unlaced laces.
His laundry but never a thank you. His you-a-thorny-motherfucker.
His train three hours for the dog. His guilt. His you-owe-me-now. His joke.
His charisma. His martyr. His bellow. His take. His not proper.
His cover up. His lie. His knotted fists. His wrist-pin. His twice your size.
His monster. His apology. His sleepwalk. His sweet talk.
His please-forgive-me. His let’s move on.
His wit. His shame. His slander. His pervert. His secret blog.
His secret bigot. His only for my boys on Long Island.
His not job. His not tonight. His better things to do. His lies.
His curse the friends who don’t cover his lies.
His beer bong and fried meat. His football and fried meat.
His don’t call on Sunday, got football and girls and fried meat.
His stoned. His hostile. His high. His reel-back. His snake tongue.
His silver tooth. His rant. His bellow. His heart. His heart. His saint.
His street corner kiss. His barroom kiss. His always in front of a crowd kiss.
His never in front of his ex kiss. His win. His only when he wins. His rant. His formula.
His legacy. His fantasy. His flair. His bathroom stall. His two at once. His brag.
His warrior. His broken. His moan. His she-got-married. His she-got-pregnant.
His lament. His commotion. His lie. His 6AM. His derail.
His marry me. His marry her. His marry her, too.
His not-on-her-birthday. His we’re-just-friends. His please-marry-me.
His I-can-give-you-children. His be-mine. His please please please.
His not call you back. His pocketful of condoms. His lie comes out.
His let’s-not-discuss-it. His details-don’t-matter. His cordial. His victim.
His won’t stop texting. His won’t stop emailing. His wound.
His mirage. His bewildered. His it’s-twenty-fucking-eleven-get-over-it.
His threat. His dare. His sociopath. His stalk. His grandeur. His monolith.
His king. His omnipotent. His everything. His lie. His everything. His everything.
I’m sorry I don’t call. Sorry I snuck down the stairs and out to the mouth of a boy who will never know my name. I’m sorry I ruined your carpet with a backdraft of whiskey. I’m sorry I told our secrets. Sorry I put them in a book. Sorry I didn’t tell you about it. I’m sorry for the freckles and the switches and the mean boys in grade school. I’m sorry I scratched your Neil Diamond record. Sorry I drew the picture of the dead cat. Titled it after my dead sister. I’m sorry they pulled her from your body like a sad wet sponge. I’m sorry no one came to the hospital. Sorry I felt sorry. I’m sorry about the stolen tampons and the nest of mice in the stove. The pennies for gas money. Sorry I drank all your rum. Sorry about the boy in the basement. And the one on the porch. And the back of your car. I’m sorry about the slashed window screens. And forearms. I’m sorry I lied about acid and the boy with the knife. The houseful of beer rats. Sorry for the weevils and the dead grass. I’m sorry I don’t call anymore. I’m sorry your life looks like this in photo albums. Sorry I was part of your stain. I’m sorry it took 36 years to say this. You hate me. You are too kind to say so. Sorry I told our stories. Sorry I am so small. Sorry I haven’t thanked you for sacrifice. For stereo and dolls and English and correcting my stutter and the big slumber party with all the gift bags. Sorry I vomited in the wash drain. Sorry I left. Sorry I came back. I’m sorry you still get so angry. Sorry I struck back. Sorry I loved you so hard—then turned like a coin that has run out of spin. I’m sorry the rock opened that boy’s forehead. Sorry I cursed you. Sorry I wouldn’t let you hit me anymore. I’m sorry I lied. Sorry I couldn’t tell you. Sorry I am a coward. My skin has started to yellow. My neck is curving into an ampersand. I’m sorry we can’t talk about it. I sorry we can’t talk. Sorry the world kicked you so hard. I’m sorry he’s sick, mama. Sorry all I can do is worry what happens next. Sorry I wrote the poems. Sorry I stopped calling. Sorry I don’t visit. Sorry you never wanted me. I can’t be fixed. We can’t laugh. I’m sorry I don’t need you like other girls. There’s so much decay in these bones. There are no grandchildren. Sorry I failed. Sorry I am alone. I’m sorry alone is easier than talking to you. I’m sorry it comes like this. Flood and undertow. Sorry I can’t sit comfortably in the same room. That I twitch like a startled moth. Sorry I came out hard and sharp and full of claws. Ruined your body. Only learned the wrong things. I’m sorry you’re so far. Sorry I have no intention of coming to find you.
I’m sorry I don’t call.
They console you over the dog.
Because she was alive once.
Because you loved her and she, you.
They avoid discussing the children you won’t have.
Refuse to speak his name.
Careful to omit words like ovary and abandon.
No one mentions the bridge anymore.
No one talks of pills or razors or hair dryers.
No one asks about the hole in your chest.
Its constant spill down the front of your shirt,
the rancid, oozing stench.
Ask instead, Did you get a new dog yet?
When I ripped her dress (down to her waist)
her size D’s flopping out like the happy hands
of a birthday clown;
when my eyes locked there:
the perfect quarters of her areola,
the carnation-pink gumdrops hard in the air-conditioned chill,
each flanked by tiny silver pearls;
when my mouth, which
(until that day)
had never offered her
a single word, spilled:
Damn, woman, I didn’t know
your titties were pierced!
But that stupid bitch
wouldn’t even slap me.
On June 19, 2008 Jamaican immigrant Esman Greene died on the floor of the emergency room waiting area at New York City’s Kings County Psychiatric Ward. Diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic, she had been hospitalized against her will and without her family’s consent. As captured by cameras, she lay dead in full view of hospital staff for over an hour.
I. On the third day God created America.
Dyed the thread blue. Stitched a patchwork
banner, tourniquets, blindfolds.
There were men, parchment, there were wives
and cattle. Gospels covered in lambskin.
God brought sea cargo with hollow eyes, saltwater lungs
made rivers and beasts and mountains for conquering.
Offered handcuffs, needles, built waiting rooms.
There was a woman, sticky like dried fruit.
The zookeeper watched
smiled when her rat-legs twitched.
II. Esman becomes America.
You are gravel scratch shoes
crows’ cackle, hissing power lines
the rumble of an elevated train
grinding through Brooklyn.
You are faucet drip, chirping cell phone
firework’s snap, barista latte foam,
playground chatter, iron bars clanked with keys
a shotgun crack. You are blooded coughs,
bile splash, schizophrenic’s howl
after the injection.
III. Jamaica calls on weekends.
First, they promise you a dream:
Cross the sea, Esman.
You leave your country
find a church, a bed, a lampshade.
You work, send money and gifts to six waiting mouths
their toes digging into the sand you regret.
When the ticks start, you call it a phase
when the voices arc, you buy a bottle of chardonnay.
You lose your job, close the sun from your room, forget how to eat.
By the time the clocks start to scream
you’ve forgotten your eldest daughter’s name.
They break the lock. Bind your limbs.
Tuck their tongues behind the word healers.
When the fluid bites into your blood, the lights go grey
when the floor kisses your cheekbone, your mouth curls into fist
but you are mute, blind, alone in a room of warm corpses.
IV. Said the manic to the muse:
Sweet Esman, I have opened my skin
choked on the gristle picked from your plate
muted the voices with pills and wine
smashed the clocks, Esman
Kings County will place you on the mantle they forgot to build.
They’ll frame you without glass on a wall with no paint.
Repent with each pluck of a new vein.
When they place your bones on the ship
push off from the dock, when the wind carries your sweet bloom
across the sea, through the palms
when the sand finally welcomes you home
America will be here
On your first date, do not hand him your vagina, polished and thirsty.
Do not allow him to rub your back or your shoulders.
Do not overdrink.
When he offers to come home with you, do not think of your ex-lover’s chest.
How it peeked from behind the open neck of a pressed J. Crew buttondown.
How you still masturbate to this.
Over dessert, do not think how smooth this man’s thighs will be.
Do not think how lovely their dark will lay against your sheets.
Do not ask to touch during sleep, it smells like love
and you have a suitcase to unpack.
You have laundry and dishes and a dog to walk. You are busy. Stay busy.
Don’t muddy your days with honey whiskey.
When the boy at the club buys you a beer, yanks you hard
from your disappearing waist, remember you owe no one.
Even if he is all your favorite music.
Keep your tongue inside your mouth.
Stop his wandering hand even if it’s the only thing good in New York City tonight.
Say no. When your boss suggests you meet Nate from Accounting
who is recently divorced, say no. Say bones break. Say love is expensive.
Remind him you have a dog and no time. You’re busy.
When a friend explains, women have children at 45 these days, girl,
you’re good, smile. She is lying.
Press her rosewater skin under your nose. Press hard.
Pretend it is the skin of a newborn. Steal this moment. She won’t mind.
When Friday finally arrives and your friends leave early, let them go.
Keep your tab open. The bar has been your longest friend.
Churns out warm bodies like a factory.
When the bar closes, remember you are busy. It’s time to walk the dog.
When you dress for your first date in two years, don’t call it date. Call it friend.
Do not let him pay. Share a bottle of your favorite wine, you deserve this.
When the wine makes words slippery as butter, tell him everything you shouldn’t.
Your diagnoses, how you have no insurance.
Count for him all the men you used to escape your husband.
The time you almost got a boyfriend arrested on West 4th Street.
The tryst with a colleague. Describe the miscarriage at 13. Abortion at 25.
The train engineer you fucked in Penn Station, how his son had Leukemia.
Tell how you waited six hours at a roof party
in Brooklyn one summer just to take the drummer home.
How you ran into that drummer weeks later and couldn’t recall his name.
Carefully detail your unending appetite for drink/fuck/fight,
everything nasty you keep under your skin. Do it precise. Calm.
When he runs from this quiet grenade, find the bar.
Tell yourself you did it for his sake. Besides, you’re busy.
Smoke another cigarette. Take another honey whiskey. Let it curdle your face.
You haven’t been beautiful in years.
His eyes are drooping bloodhounds. The bridge of his nose bends to th side, a permanent whistle. His left fist is a bullet. When he was ten, he found his mother hanging in the closet beside her favorite blue sundress. His father broke his nose eight times in three years. You discovered him under his own face. He kisses you hard. Enough to split your lip. Says your carved arms are sculptures. Says he will cut them off one day. mount them on a mannequin like Kali. You are fifteen and he fits like a key. Your mother is under the sink again. Smells like turpentine, wears her newest lover like spandex. His gunmetal is refuge. He sketches you, feeds you poems. Cuffs you to the wall, plants dark lilacs into your cheekbones. Explains how he hel the others down, fingered them as they choked. How their eyes grew fat as plums. When he tries to open your throat with a chef’s knife, you leave your shoes behind. Find a cab. A new name. A new city. Twenty years later, you peel your children from the pet shop window, tell them no, we can’t bring home that cute little bloodhound.