At the campground, I enjoyed the ocean, hot dogs, and flirting
with danger—letting the older teenage boys touch my legs
in the rec hall, wearing a reckless bikini, my new small boobs.
My anxiety rose like a pubescent pimple as my family
slowly became alien to me, their public humiliations
at the McDonalds drive-thru, a unanimous silence over
fast food fish strips and the evening news.
At the Shop Rite, my mother paid for the pot roast with
a paper check—her elegant penmanship and halter top
seducing the checkout clerk while I pocketed
at least two packs of Juicy Fruit.
I locked my bedroom door and laid in my bed with four pieces
of gum in my mouth and a pillow up my nightgown.
I found comfort in that pregnancy while my old blonde dolls
languished in a broken bassinet.
My hands, with no prior knowledge, found their way down
my pants and admitted private pleasure. Thirteen is no age
to be a woman, despite the fits of tears and unfamiliar bleeding.
At the end of summer, I raked a path through the woods,
sorted stones into rectangular beds. I liked to think
that was as much a home as the house up the hill,
clearing those loam floors, leaning fallen branches into quiet huts.
I wrote my name in the dirt with a stick. I nursed a chipmunk back
from my cat’s attack, stroked his striped bitten mass. I collected
salamanders from beneath an old wagon wheel— their cold
bodies and their simple, dark lives. My own life,
simple still, just beginning to darken.
Overprescribed Prozac, Some parts of my body—
my legs, arms, head—might suddenly flush
with a quick wave, a wash of rush just
beneath my skin. Not goosebumps exactly, or pins
and needles. A soft swarm of nerves scattering,
a subtle ripple beneath the surface of the hive.
It’s New Year’s 1999 and the world
is about to end or begin: a warehouse,
bass amps, strobe lights. I release
myself into a pool of similar bodies
all high on ecstasy. Ten different hands massage
my legs, arms, head. Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’
didn’t need a DJ: Too high to get over, too low to get under—
My ears are having a moment. My hands reach through
the pile of fake fur and feathers, finding some other flesh to touch.
So today, on my way back to the doctor regarding these weird
waves of numb, I watched a man with a cigarette step
and then stop and then sit down in the middle of the sidewalk, an orange needle
fall from his palm. He didn’t stumble. He slowly sank into the ground
the way that I imagine most devoted would do: a slow, humble drop
from knees to hands to head to ground. How his body must have felt in
that moment: a flood of warmth too good to walk on. I stopped for him.
I let it overcome me, too. Then rushed in the door to fix the feelings,
to alter things a little less this time.
The road is dry and also wet. I cannot
find a breath to fill my stiffened lungs nor grasp
something to cure me. It’s dark outside.
The sun burns through the last of night.
Last night, I walked a glittering path
to get here, asthmatic. I never arrived. I woke
up not knowing the street. I pressed the softening
sidewalk with my handprint, wrote my name
and date of birth. That dry day, they filled the dead
potholes with cement. Every day after the rain,
it doesn’t rain. Fog firms over the cliffs
or rolls over the trees. I was here once
before but I’ve never been here
breathing. There are footsteps
walking towards and away from me.
I try to trace their path with my ears, a breath,
my new hand. I do not recognize my hand,
which hand, the one hand I wrote this with.