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We lit up sparklers in your cul-de-sac,

our faces only seen in

flashes—

couldn’t look away

from our supernovas.

They hissed,

begging us to keep them there,

aware and eternal.

We united them, making it last

as long as we could

until it was time

to go back inside.

After School

“After school”

used to mean

running up the hill

to melodic chimes—

sharing a slushy,

matching blue tongues.

 

My mom always gave me

five more minutes

in the “ducky playground.”

There was a broken duck seat

attached to the ground

with a spring.

I sat on it,

rocking it back and

forth, side to side,

trying to break it

more.

 

My best friend told me secrets

before we slid down

the biggest slide,

and we always liked

the same boys. I hated that

but loved her,

and we wrote bad songs

and stayed up late watching

sad movies.

 

Now “after school” means

401k plans, an unpaid lunch hour,

and early dentist appointments.

Resumes catered to jobs catered

to people catered to me, but

never catered to you.

If you aren’t full time,

you are wasting time,

and there is no time

for you and me

to talk about what we want.

Never say

what a company can do for you.

What can you do for them?

What can you do for me?

 

The bank lady—I think her name was Betsy,

asked for my number,

as we sat in expensive blue chairs,

sinking in.

“What is the number

to reach you at work?”

 

Paperwork stuck together,

Dry hands,

Repeat the question,

Please.

“What is your work number?”

The rearranged words

felt heavier.

 

“Oh, I— I don’t have one.”

 

I wished it was

all laid out for her,

facts on her computer screen

in a doctor’s office.

“I was laid off.

The company downsized.”

The explanation was

necessary

to set up a bank account,

even though

it really wasn’t.

 

She gave me a sad smile,

as if she knew about

the empty space

I felt in my identity.

 

“If this was an interview,”

she said as I signed where

the x’s were,

“I would hire you.”

 

 

 

You Are Not The Reason

I feel vulnerable and my body aches

with uncertainty.

I become anxiety

when my plans tank.

But I still want to hear about

your day.

What happened in class—

the notes you write her,

the next drawing you make.

 

My eyes are always inside screens,

my mind on what I need to do,

my hands on something

I believe is more important.

But it isn’t.

Nothing is more important.

I need to turn and face you.

Time is not running out—

It is right here.

And so are you.

 

I am not young enough

to walk next to you in the halls,

and not old enough to

pass off as your mom.

I am in-between friend and parent,

wanting to have more power,

to give you what you need,

What you want.

I care too much

about your fingers, your music eyes,

your swollen heart.

You are not my child, but you are

worth all my time.

 

You are not the reason

I worry about money,

about where I will end up.

I feel your gratitude

even when you are distracted—

We all get distracted.

I feel like I always am.

 

My uncertain life would be hollow

without your stories, music,

and yearning to be heard.

 

Yes, I am scared.

But if you ever left—

There is nothing that scares me

more.

 

 

MFA of the Heart

Grad school and relationships

have the same process.

 

You fall in love, even though

you said you wouldn’t

 

when he left you on the stairs

Monday morning,

not even an apology text after.

He didn’t want to give you

a chance,

even after he paid for dinner

and listened to your life story—

 

He pretended he didn’t know

your name.

you became a statistic,

a Facebook friend,

a paper tucked underneath

all the others.

 

You hear about someone

just outside of town.

He is looking for someone—

but you know it can’t be you.

 

No one thinks you have

the right credentials.

You should just find a job

and stay home.

 

You decide to send him a letter

anyways,

 

Almost don’t include the return address.

When rejection is guaranteed

it takes the edge of

the deep-rooted

devastation.

 

He calls you.

Your face buzzes,

a moment packed with

so much—

happy.

Drunk

on the phone’s heat

 

After the first date,

he moves in.

The talk of children—

you lose your appetite

for the left over pizza

in the fridge.

 

You are too tired to make love,

but he doesn’t understand.

he wants to see more of you,

 

He gives you a ring,

and you stay up

flipping through the

wedding magazines,

writing down vendors,

asking your friends what they think.

Their opinions

Their ideas,

Their feedback.

 

You don’t know how you feel

about anything.

 

You don’t remember what it’s like

to have nothing to do,

to have a moment where

you aren’t falling behind.

The date is rolling towards you

like a runaway wheelbarrow.

You don’t know if you should

try to stop it

or run away.

 

But in the middle of the night,

the moon is between

the tree branches

and nothing needs to happen

right now,

 

And you feel him next to you,

stuck in a dream,

But he is suddenly

the most real part

of you.

 

When he turns over in bed—back to you

and you are wide awake,

You trace his spine

with your fingers

and feel his warmth.

It isn’t until then

you realize

you have never loved anything

quite this much.

 

When I Write

I look at my hands

like they are digital

and bright

with messages and ads

on them.

 

I don’t feel capable

of nurturing you.

I stare at screens

too much

to pay attention to you.

 

I can’t have free time

when I feel guilty

being mindless.

 

I remember you

but I forget how to

handle you.

I care about you

and don’t care about you

until it is over.

Then you become

something else.

 

Does his dresser still have our initials

carved into its side

with a knife-made-heart

framing them?

I wonder if you feel how deep

the markings are

with your index finger—

 

On the mornings he

goes to work,

you are left with

a naked mattress.

Or maybe you convinced him

to get a comforter set.

Maybe he makes his bed

now.

 

When it rains, does he look

at you?

He stays in his room

and doesn’t take

his medication

so he can feel the pain

a little bit longer.

He is trying not to yell

at you,

so he ignores you

instead.

 

Do you stare at the toy

in his therapist’s waiting room?

The one that has the beads

you can slide along

the green, red, yellow, blue

skinny rods—

The roller coaster controlled

by little hands.

 

I hope when he takes you

to New Jersey

he buys you dresses too.

I want you to have

a caricature done

of you two

at a festival

and I want him to

smile at you

when you dress up

and when you don’t dress up

and when you are in sweats,

concentrating hard

on your laptop screen.

 

I want him to ask you

what you bought at Target

with your mom,

how your day was with

your best friend,

what you had for dinner—

 

When you see your

reflection in his TV

I want you to feel real,

and not like a character

in one of his

video games.

 

I couldn’t be the girl he drew

in his comics,

the one who always saved him

from the dark monster

living in his mind.

Thank you for being

the girl in the next edition

that takes over.

I no longer wonder

if he fell out of frame.

 

I live in another story now

and there are no more pages

left for him.

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