A Colony of Me

Another night locked in the bathroom, 
another lonely, bathtub dinner, another

napkin rubbed translucent with grease
tossed to the flooding stone bin–

it’s all led to this. Ants in my sink,
in my trash, mistaking my waste

as a peace offering, an invitation
to come in from the cold. I find them

under the slick pearl of soap in dish,
running greedy jaws over the bristles

of my toothbrush, my floors outlined
by a swarming pointillism, a hundred grains

of obsidian roiling beneath my feet. 
Always looting waxen q-tips, nail clippings,

mucus-hardened tissues, all those pieces
of myself I try to get rid of. I set out poison,

drown them in toilet bowl and basin,
devote whole hours to crushing them 

between my thumb and index until
they’re but stains on my fingertips, smudges 

on the toothpaste-speckled countertop.
I’m so stuck in this impulse to murder 

that I forget my reasons for wanting them
all dead. How can it be so easy?

Stamping out those small lives for nothing
more than hauling off all those fragments

of myself that I’ve thrown away and crawling
to the Earth to build a colony from them?

 

 

 

C

*Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault*

You are my earliest memory.

Those nights, all I wanted to do was to
play with your G.I. Joes and Power Rangers

as our mothers gossiped in your living
room. Your room was a sock-strewn
clubhouse for broken home boys like me,

a place where you taught me
to quietly giggle words like shit
and damn into my hand so my mother
couldn’t hear. You were an older

brother I never had, a model
of miniature masculinity, so when
you told me that your father taught
you how to be a man, I wanted
to learn—what boy at age four

could resist this knowledge? You led
me to your closet and pulled the door
shut behind us, swaddling my eyes
in darkness until you found the cord
and clicked light into existence. Standing
under your striped t-shirts and passing

dusty recycled air between our lungs,
I was lost in my own head, wondering
who had showed your dad how to be
a man and why my father hadn’t shared
this mandate with me himself, so when
you pulled down your pants, and showed
me your shriveled manhood, all I could do

was stare; I was too young to know
that I should be embarrassed by your naked
body. I didn’t understand how being cramped
in the closet with you was going to make me
a man, I had never heard any other boys
whispering about such a rite of passage,
but you told me to trust you and I did.
You spit into your hand and tugged,

as if you wanted to rid yourself
of yourself, and all the while I watched,
afraid I would miss something if I looked
away. Later, you reached out and took
me in your hand, showing me our body’s
awful machinations, telling me that I was
being a girl when I started to cry. You told me

to nurse you like a lollipop, like something
sweet I’d get from the doctor for enduring
a shot. I hoped you were telling the truth,
that when the closet door swung open
I would be a man and the whole world
would be different, but when the light rushed

in and the eddies of dust stopped swirling
your dirty socks were still on the floor,
our mothers were still laughing in the
living room. It’s said that when we die our lives
will flicker in front of our eyes in slow-motion

technicolor, the tapes of our lives rewinding,
constantly rewinding, the sights growing brighter
frame by frame, the smells and tastes sharpening
in our mouths and noses until we’ve looked

back and it all finally makes sense. This is why
I’m afraid of dying—I don’t want the last image
that will ever burn in my eyes to be you,

panting, hand outstretched, as if you
were the answer to all life’s questions,

as if even in death you were coming for me.

K

The first time we made love
was in an empty high school gymnasium

late at night. When I finally saw all of you
in the moonbeams rippling through the grubby

windows behind us—tanned skin, heart-shaped mole,
scars like miniature waxen railroad tracks

crossing your knees—I remember thinking
it’s happening, it’s finally happening, though at the time

I thought it just meant losing my virginity.
We were together for seven months, each lonely

night spent on the phone listening
to each others day echo through the crackling static

vacuum of phone towers stretched 990 miles
between shady hollers and shifting dunes,

so when you came to visit after Christmas
I couldn’t wait to put our words to rest and rely

on the body’s archaic language to tell you
how I felt. Once you were here, though, I realized

that I didn’t want my family and friends to meet you—
I wanted them to meet my girlfriend. You were a topic

of conversation, a doll made of glass in my hands,
something I flaunted, like you were a trembling bunny

I had caught in the woods and brought home to present
to my parents before letting it go at the edge of the lawn.

Do you remember when we fucked for an hour and a half
on my bathroom floor? I faked it twice. It may seem

impossible, but my knees were tired of the tiles
and my parents were sleeping soundly

in the next room. By then, I knew you weren’t
the naked girl I found in that dirty high school gym,

I knew that the moment we shared on the cold
metal bleachers was just that—a moment, frozen in time,

a dusty moonbeam reverie I had created
for myself because I was tired of being lonely.

On Research

The artist has to be something like a whale swimming with his mouth wide open, absorbing everything until he has what he really needs.
–Romare Bearden

One of my favorite things about writing is the research that goes into making a piece well-informed and honest in tone.

When I was in college, I stayed as far away from research as possible, preferring to write analytical essays about whatever novel or article I was reading at the time. Writing essays meant that I could rely on my own findings, my own beliefs–it was very inconvenient trying to find scholarly articles that backed up my argument, reading them, & then condensing 20+ pages of scholarly discourse into one or two sentences that felt more like a distraction from my voice/argument than a supplement to it. Truth be told, if I had never taken a creative writing course, I probably would have left UK believing that looking up information that wasn’t readily available to me was an act of torture.

During both semesters of my Senior year, I took poetry workshops with the professor that I would consider the most influential in my desire to become a writer. During the course, she often berated us for limiting ourselves by not actively looking for new words, ideas, & trends in the world. One moment that sticks out in my mind in particular is when we were asked to read Brian Doyle’s Joyas Voladorasan essay that examines the hearts of hummingbirds–for the next class. I read the beautifully written essay like every other piece of writing I was given to analyze in college: I read through it once to understand the general themes within the piece, a second time to find connections between them, & then put it in my binder to wait for discussion the next week. Going into class, I felt prepared to talk about Doyle’s examination of the heart with my classmates.

After tying her hair back & setting out her books, my teacher asked us if we had enjoyed the essay. All agreed we had, & we lapsed into a shallow discussion about things that popped out to us in the writing–beautiful imagery, particularly well-written phrases, things that lit the bulbs in our minds when we ran our eyes and fingers over them. We had prepared these answers, thinking we knew what she wanted to hear from us. We had not prepared an answer for her next question, however.

“Who looked up what joyas voladoras means?”

None of us answered–stuck in our collegiate mindset of dissect & analyze, we had forgotten to search for the meaning of those two little italicized words on the page. She wasn’t happy with us, & she let us know it. What she said that day has stayed with me:

“As young writers you can’t shy away from the things you don’t know. If you are too afraid to admit that you don’t know something for fear of seeming ignorant, you will be ignorant. LIfe is too short to be left in the dark. You must read everything you can get your hands on, look for new words, discover the nuggets of information buried deepest in the mud, for those are often the most precious.”

Before that moment, I had never associated research with knowledge (a very stupid oversight, I’ll admit). I had seen it as just a way to get credit on papers. I couldn’t see the merits of looking up things that I didn’t know because I had always associated this with the aspects of academia that I hated. To think of research as something that could bring me joy was an extremely foreign concept.

My teacher preached about the merits of research over the course of the year. The epigraph (if you want to call it that) at the beginning of this post comes from her, & its since became one of my favorite quotes to share with someone. She showed me that adding a dash of well-researched information into a poem could incite interest in my pieces while making those bulbs fire in the minds of my readers; for instance, take a look at Dorianne Laux’s Facts About the Moon. It begins with an interesting fact about the moon & then gracefully transitions into her own voice, her own point of writing the poem. Throughout the poem, she continually reminds us that she is writing a list of facts as well as a poem. It’s that kind of tactfully placed information that gets my blood pumpin’.

All of this talk about research comes after a few days of researching the processes of blacksmithing & armouring. I’m doing this research in order to craft a piece that talks about these processes with authority while also placing my own poetic spin on them–much like Laux does in Facts About the Moon. The piece will be for a dear friend of mine, so once I’ve gotten it perfected to a point where I don’t hate looking at it anymore, I’ll post my draft here.

Thanks for taking this journey with me, reader. Lord knows I couldn’t make it on my own.

P.S. After class I went home & googled joyas voladoras, discovering that it meant “flying jewels” is Spanish. Has there ever been a better metaphor for the small, bright birds?

Lone Wolf

“The fascination of shooting as a sport depends almost wholly on whether you are at the right or wrong end of the gun.”
– Sir P. G. Wodehouse

I.

Against the rise of the August 15 Louisville pre-dawn,
a boy makes music with his feet, each staggered pump
of his bike’s pedals bringing the clattering babble
of baseball card meeting spoke to the eclipsed houses
of his neighborhood. As he moves his legs numbly,

his stomach raises its early morning protest.
He tops a hill, the sun rushing to meet him,
bathing his face in rose gold. He slows,
sets the bike down on the sidewalk’s curb,
pulls a tangerine from the crumpled brown bag

his mother packed for him. He skins the orange globe
voraciously, letting its zesty pelt fall to the gutter
between his feet. He chews its juicy flesh silently,
listening to the hushed buzz of cars in the stirring
metal city. Sitting alone on this curb, he feels like

everything he sees (tangerine, bicycle, neighborhood,
city) belongs to him, like the world rests in the navy
lint at the bottom of his pockets and he could reach
a sticky hand into his jeans and pull out anything
he wanted. When half of the tangerine has disappeared

down the narrow tunnel of his throat, he wipes dribble
from the corners of his mouth with fraying sleeves, pulls
a Courier-Journal from the top of his pile. He thumbs
through it slowly, scanning headlines for a story to tell
his friends at school. He finds it waiting for him on B5.

II.

YES, IT WAS A WOLF, IN KENTUCKY

It’s a wildlife mystery.

The first documented free-ranging wolf in Kentucky’s modern history was shot and killed by an unsuspecting hunter, state wildlife officials have announced.

No charges are expected to be brought because there’s no reason for any hunter to expect a wolf to be in the state, since they haven’t been here for more than a century, according to the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.

III.

When the sun rose over the town of Munfordville
on March 16, James Troyer left his home to hunt
on his family’s farm. As he walked through the green
sway of milkweed, goldenrod, round-headed bushclover,

his head was filled with unknown assailants–he could see
his son in Afghanistan being swarmed by hordes of faceless
men in black turbans; he could see the poisoned cells
sprouting again like fungi from the dark, wet walls of his

father-in-law’s lungs. He could not protect his family
from these nebulous shadow-dangers, but in the field,
with his Remington M-32 slung over his shoulder
in American Carry, he could find beasts that would carry

cattle from his pastures, beasts that could hunt his family
and crack their bones like candy canes between acicular
yellow teeth. In his peripheral, he spotted something gray
and four-legged on a hay ridge. From a hundred yards out,

it looked like the coyote he had killed a week before,
but he couldn’t be sure. He slid the Remington off his arm
and raised it to the soft dimple of flesh at his shoulder,
mashing the safety off and guiding the notch at barrel’s end

until it floated between the shoulder blades of the intruder.
He inched closer, twigs cracking like knuckles beneath
his Timberlands, and the furry quadruped bristled. It raised
its head, swiveling on neck’s axis to see the man pointing

his gun at it. It lowered its head and flattened its ears against
its neck, its eyes shining with the smoldering beauty of topaz
in the light and fixed on the two-legged creature. Like his father,
grandfather, and countless other Troyer men before him,

James inhaled to steady his hand, exhaled as he pressed the curved
metal ring, felt the hot rush of celebratory blood in his cheeks
when the beast yelped and fell and didn’t get back up. He didn’t
need to think twice about pulling the trigger—it was in his nature.

IV.

He strung her up by her hocks, laid her
in the bed of his trailer, posed her this way

and that, documenting the animal too large
to be a coyote. Blood dripped from her mouth,

from the raised hackles where the buckshot
turned her torso into a fuzzy sieve, tracing

the course of her sway on the cracked cement
of the garage, covering the toes of his Timberlands,

pooling like a crimson shadow in her wake. He split
her down the middle with a rust spackled bowie knife,

scooping her organs out with bare hands, building
a steaming mound of carnage, sliding the cold steel gently

between her skin and muscles, slicing a few inches
from each side with practiced fingers, peeling furry

flesh away until he had his trophy. When he was finished,
he sent what remained of her body to the state for DNA

testing, where they carved the meaty dagger of her tongue
from its mooring in order to identify what he had killed.

V.

You were a gray wolf, Canis lupus, apex predator
of the wide grasslands of North America for thousands
of years until my kind piled into a boat and ran upon
your shores by mistake. Your ancestors made their homes
where they wanted, forming dens in Texas, the Carolinas,
even California, for a time. The Native Americans respected
your kind, knowing that they formed families that traveled
in packs for life, that they wouldn’t attack man unless provoked,
that theirs was a sister spirit to their own. When we took
this nation, you were our pest, stealing the bison we preyed on
for food and clothing and     whatever     we needed them for
in our colonization tour. We used guns to blast you towards
the brink of extinction, and nobody could stop us; we had taken
care of the Native Americans by then, too. Today, only 9,000
of your gregarious fuzz-faced brethren can raise their howl
as tribute to the moon over this, our stolen country. In our
version of history, you were both a threat to us, so why
would we ever need to hear your version of history?

VI.

What brought you here?

Didn’t you know this land
isn’t your home any more?

VII.

My kind doesn’t like to be challenged. We don’t
like it when something we can’t understand

comes onto our property, threatens our family,
our community. We’ve worked hard to make

things just so around here. We shoot first,
cover our ass later, we are the apex predator,

we can do whatever we want and most
of the time, we’ll get away with it. That’s

why your killer went unpunished. You
are of the minority here, and you were

walking alone—in this country, the man
with the gun will always come out on top.

Didn’t you know that? Didn’t you hear
about what happened to Trayvon?

VIII.

In Louisville, the boy’s eyes glide over the last
sentence of the article on B5 for the fourth time:
Gray wolves have been on the federal endangered
species list, but the US Fish and Wildlife Service
this year declared them recovered, and proposed

taking them off the list. He has been sitting on the curb
for fifteen minutes, eating the remaining tangerine
half with the Courier-Journal shielding his head from
the sun. When he has finished the article, he folds
the paper back up neatly, allowing the light of morning

to flood his retinas. He squints and blinks, trying to adjust
to the harsh rays of the world that had appeared as he read
about the hunter and the wolf in Munfordville. He tosses
what’s left of the orange globe into the gutter and picks
his bike up. He finishes the route quickly, tossing packaged

copies of the daily news onto manicured lawns, front porches,
and gravel driveways. Later, at school, he realizes that ink
from the paper he peeked at on the curb has stained his fingers;
even when he scrubs with soap, he can’t get it off. When his
friends ask him about what’s in the news, he tells them nothing.

They never really care, anyways.

Fibonacci Poetry

On StumbleUpon, I recently found a collection of Shelley Batts’ work that demonstrated Fibonacci Poems. I was instantly intrigued by this new form, which relies on the Fibonacci Sequence. If you’re like me, this is a familiar but extraneous remnant of your middle school knowledge, but it’s fun to play with the form and think about things adding up as you move along in the poem–it adds a natural momentum that you can see as well as hear. While the examples I found applied each number in the sequence to the number of syllables per line, I chose to focus on each number as the amount of words I could use per line.

Cartography

One
word
then two
then three more
and over and over again
until I’m outlined on sheets of loose leaf,
my life whittled down to seas of spilled ink, the graphite boundaries loose
and shifting like sand, each slant a mountain, each dip a holler, each pink smudge attempting to hide my heart’s topography.

Thanksgiving

After dinner, my father asked me
if I had a “type”, and I could have said yes,
I have an agonizingly predictable soft spot
for long-legged girls with flaxen hair
and eyes as steely and brilliant as bluefish,
girls who crash their mouths into mine
like bumper cars and smirk as they cup my crotch,
girls whose fingers cut paths through my hair,
who aren’t as tough as they seem, who use me
to forget about their boyfriends for a little while,
long enough that I stop remembering
that I wasn’t made to be loved fully, that I
am a willing and desperate distraction, that I
am only keeping their beds warm until the other men
come home and I am just a secret they’ve covered up
with makeup, but instead of all that, I hung a crooked
semi-smile between my cheeks and told him no,
the lie slipping as carelessly through my teeth
as I love you from your pale lips.