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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.

I’m stupid. It’s okay — I can say it. I’m stupid; it fits like a stone in the mouth, stretching my jaw til it pops. I’ve learned to breathe around it, through the spaces between my teeth. It’s not so different than his fingers. No need to make it more complicated than it needs to be. God knows I’d hardly understand it if I did. I’ve never had the hands for untangling things. So I’m stupid. So I thought, or maybe, I wanted. Maybe I needed — and I didn’t mean it — maybe the need was something that happened to me; like a car cracking my sternum. I had no control. I was a small thing held in your palm. I was hopeful and I hated it. And maybe it was lesson — my lesson — and I never seemed to learn it. And maybe I still haven’t. Maybe I never will. I have to say it: I’m stupid. It fits like a stone in the mouth; it didn’t taste great at first, but now I don’t mind it. After a while, it doesn’t taste like anything at all.

For you, whom I love,
a long goodbye.

I bless your feet for kicking
the crab apples in the orchard
of my heart –
for cracking their round
and sour –
their too soon –
their not-ripe,
not yet.

And maybe I meant it,
at the moment of the lie
when I told you I was leaving;
when I walked away,
turning the lights off, one by one,
like stars burning out.
Maybe I asked you to hold me too hard
and you didn’t know what to say
when my soft oozed sick
like gore between your fingers;
the sticky rot of it;
the bitter tang.
Maybe I just wanted you to miss me.

For you, whom I love,
a long goodbye – this could take years.
Please, keep kissing me.

Sometimes I still pull gold coins out from under my tongue. It’s not as often, only when I’m short change. Only when I have a story to tell, and even then, it never seems to be enough. My fingers have memorized the motion – the plucking and wiping off of wet on my sleeve. I have to wonder if they’re worth more because I find them less and less, or if rather, their rarity only echoes at extinction. This is how the notebooks have turned to photo-albums; how each poem has become a snapshot that radiates nostalgia as pain through a bone. And perhaps, like men once passed from mouth to ear and back again, such things will steal your soul. But we were greedy. And God, I was so greedy – documenting everything. I try to avoid thinking about it, but it’s hard not to wonder if my soul will stay, and if it does, just how much I will miss it. So I pull the coins out when they come, for fear of choking on them. I pluck and wipe and pocket them. My movements have become no more than mere maintenance – the silent barter for my body to keep breathing, because despite everything, I know I cannot afford to lose myself.

I sent you down the river,
arms crossed over your chest,
peaceful;
stood guard on that rock like a siren
using the absence of song
to push you further away.
And when the townspeople called me murderer,
I smiled;
lips full and red like a wolf eating her prey;
I smiled in a way
I knew you would’ve loved.
Brother, how I miss you.
How I still haunt the forest, barefoot,
and howling my grief to the moon;
how you swore you’d come home soon
to lick your fangs with me –
but I cannot sing you back to my side.
Believe me, I’ve tried.
It’s only ever me and this damn rock.