Denial: 5 Days After
Good morning! It’s a little past 7 am there. You haven’t greeted me or sent me a morning song yet. What are you listening to? How’s your sleep? Don’t forget to eat lunch. Tea isn’t a substitute for a meal. Break a leg! Breathe. Stop reading work modules on weekends. Weekends are for podcasts, a good book, folding laundry, time with the kids. And when you still have time to spare, another movie with me. We can rewatch In The Mood For Love and get heartbroken again. But if you’re too tired, that’s okay. We can watch Nick Cave some other time. I’ll still love you. Did you know that?
I went to the bookstore yesterday. On the shelf: bargain books. Front of the stack: a lone travel guide to your city. Maybe an early April Fool’s offering from a telepathic staff. You forgot to give me your address. That’s alright. You have mine and my door’s open. I will fix you cardamom tea when you come. We can talk about salmon again. Remember how you said you’ll have one tattooed on your forehead after I made you a poem about salmon? I’ll forgive you if you were serious about it (though God, I hope not). I’ll still love you. Did you know that?
On our way home, heavy rain bore down on me and Lia. Calves soaked in the flood as we waited the storm out. A car plate with your initials drifted in the water. These fucking pranks of the Universe are not funny. My feet are wet – with tears, see? I held the car plate as I would a paper plane, urging the Universe to fly it over to you with my futile words, bent and frightened as yours. Because I never told you, not even as we traded a final goodnight:
I love you. Did you know that?
Anger: Stockholm Syndrome
One glum noon, I found an escaped prisoner in a hive. Gaunt, weak, scraped of muscles, dispirited – like me in my old cell in ’15.
I loosened his cuff with the wire I used to unlock mine back when I was a captive, then threw his chains down to a lake bottom. We tiptoed away from the keep, wary of judging eyes, to the arid desert where his captor scattered his fleshy pieces, as breadcrumbs for vultures to feed on. We washed the smell of death off them with my quietened tears. My hands carefully suturing every gaping incision she made, every memory skinned of hope.
In our makeshift den, I undressed his anguish and draped him with honesty, ears, and verses. He clothed me in lyrics, kindness, and praise. We toasted to each other’s grief, pouring sweet hemoglobin into each other’s marrow. I watched the pallor of his flesh turn pink again; his once mournful eyes now a vivid sphere like the sun.
But sometimes, he pondered and longed for the false comfort of cold brick and metal. “I am immensely attracted to you. Everything about you brings me solace. You are my voice of reason, beauty, and hope,” he said. “But there were plenty of good memories in that cell too with my captor. She always tells me I’m the only prisoner she wants. It’s only me she loves.”
I shrugged his confusion off, believing our friendship was light. And light creates a clearing – for wounds, above all.
One night, once they scabbed over, he scrambled back to the lake and swam to the depths of the muck, filtering every grain of silt and clay. A-ha! Found it! he exclaimed, eyes hypnotized by round steel. “Come with me,” he urged. “Let’s keep each other company. We can keep a safe distance, remain friends while you stay outside my cell.”
I shook my head, my heart splintering into tiny pieces. “Love is a decision. You need to make that decision with her every day.”
Alone in the dark, he retraced his steps back to offer his wrists to his captor once more. How could he stab his own heart like this? How could he not know I am the signpost at the intersection where she left his maimed parts? How could he ever fucking forget: When he showed her his bruised wrists, it was I who uncuffed them?
Every night since, I screamed outside the keep. “You are a fucking coward who can’t fight for the life he deserves!” I had hoped he’d hear the echo of my voice and wake up. But the captive was too deep asleep in his captor’s bed.
Bargaining: Last night
You sat on the edge of the bed, watching me sleep, palms briskly warming my icy calf. You pulled the stray blanket over me, startling slumbering nerves. Even on pitch-dark nights, I could make out your weepy eyes, the bushy beard, the burly shoulders. Come to bed. Stay, I coaxed. You smiled and crawled to my side. I fold. You fold. We sleep swaddled in skin.
The alarm rings. One body on the bed. You – swaddled elsewhere.
They say dreams speak what we can’t in waking life. What mine was saying was, I miss how we used to keep each other safe.
Depression: In it
There are days you don’t want to fight. Right now I am in it. I live between other people’s words and mine, voices bickering about who deserves the lapel. My grief sits in a cobwebbed corner, knees tucked under the chin. Seething. Its throat aches to scream Shut up all of you, but inertia is comfort. My bed beckons again while my shaky hands dredge beauty from rubbish for art. Sorrow a monotonous tune, like the weeping of this lonesome cunt. I cry because I am two hours behind his time zone always, and maybe that means I am also two hours behind grieving us always. I don’t like losing pieces of him. I fear he is losing mine for good. Do you think one day we will turn into one of those seniors whose remembrances of each other are as outdated as the cigarette-smelling 1960s sofa they sit on from across six feet? I ask the mirror every day.
My lungs are scrambling not to collapse in the shower. Every day I sob in the shower. Every day I am a sore thumb under memory’s heavy hammer. There are days faltering is delicious. There are days healing is tedious. There are days you don’t want to fight, but just to live – between the shadow and the light. Right now
I am in it.
Anger 2.0 (because healing is messy): Questions after you said I died a million times in you
What were you thinking, striking the cleaver into a bitch raised in hell like that? Who sings honeyed dirges for the dead while their warm hands make love with someone else’s warm hands? Why are you at my tombstone, smiling with a three-faced woman in a red dress? Did you know that you died more times in me? Did you know that to kill love is to drag a body and a canister of unsent letters to a graveyard every night, only to perform a reincarnation ritual after unfolding the paper’s creases? Did you know I spent half a year as your mortician that everything I touched smelled like your corpse? Did you know that a caged bird can still build a pyre? And did you know you can only kill it once because once the phoenix rises, it sears everything to ashes – you, your cleaver, your red woman, and your hard want to kill again?
Acceptance: I write poems less now that I am no longer heartbroken
Pain is kinship for artists. I poetried the shit out of kinship for months. Ripped the barbwires guarding my soft heart and painted chapters with bloody hands. Metered words until they were bone-tired of distance. Loss makes pain addicts of us all. I am a recovered addict with no muse to write about. I should be worried — that my hands learned things other than cupping my tear-smudged face? Things other than reviving the dead? The weight of new muscles, the joyful remaking of taco rolls and stews, a comforting spoon into my forgotten dry mouth, my footsteps quickening in the woods to follow a skipping bug?
Blessed is forgiveness for hurt deliverers like my faulty heart. Blessed is sorrow-borne nirvana for clearing the haze of my love-astigmatized eyes. Blessed are the dull days without salt trickling down the keyboard as I versed the man I lost. Blessed are the clean, wordless pages staring at me, white as teeth rehoming in a smile. White as cold air escaping the lips in the winter after a faded autumn. A reminder: this is what fresh oxygen feels like. Look, the snow is thinning. Soon, new leaves will spring to life.
“Questions after you said I died a million times in you” and “In it“ were first published in JAKE on May 24, 2023.