How many times have I been here?
How many times have I lifted my face to the moon
and waited?
And what about my heart, that’s been stitched together,
thread over thread, so many times?
Can it beat still? I wonder;
how much muscle has to be left?
A sliver, maybe, or a little less —
but it must be enough
because when I close my eyes against the wind,
after everything, I still love.

I push the adjectives to one side of my plate;
cut the verbs like a rare steak.
I lick the knife.
How refreshing, a woman with an appetite.
I don’t say anything.
Pierce the vowels with the prongs of my fork;
get the consonants stuck between my teeth.
This dinner table’s been inherited by the meek.
His hand on the small of my back when we leave.
Finally, a girl who can eat her fill.
I haven’t said anything yet,
so maybe I never will.

Where have you been?
To the edge and back. In parking lots, laughing at cops. Coffee shops. Another man’s bed. To the center. To the trees. Like water, I ran downhill – like rain, through the sewer grates. What do you want me to say? I side-stepped my body; left all language behind. I was a shadow in a dark room, packed neatly away. A girl passing in your dream you couldn’t really see. I watched you. No – it was worse than that. Like Hell, but colder and emptier. As though all the devils were here… and maybe they still are. Maybe that’s why I burn like a film strip left under the light. Maybe that’s why my skin tries to slip away. Maybe I’m trying to give them the bones to gnaw on. To keep their mouths busy. So I can tell you something. Something secret. Come closer now. Bring your ear to my lips and let me say it… God, I need to say it…

How much your hands have meant to me —
the stretch of palm,
the holding on.
I read their lines in my sleep;
the future spelled out in my dreams.
And we are living happily;
it’s you and me,
and we are living happily.

When the spell called for a lock of my hair,
I gave my whole head.
I think, maybe, that’s always been my problem;
why my mother bound my hands in ribbon
to stop me from bleeding
because I would’ve kept on going.
They don’t need everything, she told me.
A pinprick will do – just a drop.
But I always gave away too much
and ruined it.
When I was younger, I tried to conjure a flower
and filled the whole house with sweet clover
so fragrant it called the bees.
I can still remember how they stung me,
drunk on pollen and promises of more.
But my mother only laughed, wiping my cheeks,
and said, See, it’s not so bad;
now it smells like summer.

It’s true, the women in my family often suffer this curse;
my mother’s sister had it worse
and tried to use her own heart
as part of a love spell.
Some nights I can still see her dagger in my hands,
piercing the flesh and peeling back –
but what would be left?
My chest is always empty in these dreams.
I understand why mother does it
– why she worries –
why she binds my hands.
I can’t be trusted.
I’m all and then I’m nothing.
And she doesn’t want the scent of sweet clover
to linger in her sleep.

I bit into the damp peach, letting the juice drip down onto my fingers. He watched me eat from my old bed – big enough to fit only one of us at a time. Still, we piled on top of it like children; all elbows and knees, sleeping fitfully. When I finished, I lined the pit up on my windowsill to dry in the sun. It was still sticky to the touch.

“I love that,” he told me.

“What?”

“When you do that – with the pits. You do the same thing every time.”

I wiped my hands against my jeans, not bothering to wash them. The residue remained, kept skin kissing skin where it touched. I looked down at the five pits and then smiled at him. Sometimes it still surprised me how much he noticed. Maybe it shouldn’t have. Not after all that time, but it did.

“Yeah. I guess I do,” I admitted. “Are you going to ask me why?”

I stood up in front of him, hands on my hips, teasing. I couldn’t get enough of him here – in my space – taking up the air with his lungs, leaving me just shy of breathless. Everything lit up around him. I wonder if he knew.

“No,” he said.

He pulled me down by the front of my shirt until we were kissing. I was not used to being taller than him – it made our noses bump one another, and he laughed against my lips in a way that made me smile. His hand cupped my jaw, larger than anything, but still so tender. And my whole body ached.

Of course he knew why I did it. I shouldn’t be surprised. Not after all this time – but I was. He knew that I didn’t mind the hard things – that I grew to want them. That in all this sweet, I needed to know there was still a spine. That in all this soft, I needed to know there was still my fist, if it came down to it. I loved him then, so desperately, when both our mouths tasted of ripe peach.

Hot sweat. Sticky love.
I know there are words for these things,
but only after.
Your mouth open and wet against my flesh.
My body giving and taking.
Breath baited,
like a worm through a hook,
waiting.
I still don’t know how to tell you that my room
is the same as any room,
until you’re inside of it.
How the walls sing,
and the windows shudder –
the way the bed cannot contain itself.
I know there are words for these things,
but only after;
and God, I don’t want you
to leave.