paint poem

there’s summer’s pale breath in the softness of your shins
shiny smooth and I’m three, at your feet
transfixed by your hair shorn short like a little boy’s
and little me, I think I wanted to touch it
I know I was tall enough to reach it when you sat
instead though I stood and picked at your hot burnt shoulders and you shrieked
you were just trying to
cool down
I’m sorry I was too little to know not to peel away the dead parts,
to at least ask if you were ready to let them go

in a different form of our lives
I’m five, a squished face and short sobs as you pick apart my curls
on the bed in the guestroom
your last bedroom in that frame of a family home
looking ahead, we’re a mirror
your scowl a backwards evolution of my miniature frown
I wondered again at the shaggy shortness of your own hair while your patience wore on mine
a nest you couldn’t sort
the foreignness of twisted curls, the turns of a French braid a sudden and humbling humiliation
the magazine made it look so easy, still
you flipped through glossy pages and taught me motherfuck instead

grown now I fail to recall
the measure and might of my own shortcomings, like when
you painted the living room ceiling, I was fifteen and for weeks
red-brown patches stuck to the wrinkles of your elbows
and your salted pepper strands, blotches like earned badges
after I refused to help you,
or wasn’t around to speak the quiet parts
softly, that
love is slow moving moments, small changes
and forgetting

the shape of things

What I know is: shame is round like the blonde bowl cut on the fat boy who led a chorus of laughter
in fifth grade when mine were the only crying eyes on the reading rug
where our kind teacher sat us down to discuss current events and
told us of a moose who’d drowned in the swimming pool of some
bewildered wealthy northeasterners who probably didn’t realize the risk
their pool posed to local wildlife, the news story said
(probably rugged skiers and avid vegetarians
probably Alan Chartoc fans, probably had a fundraiser to commemorate
ungulates who’d fallen prey to the
bad landscaping and affluenza particular to the region)
and although ropes and cranes and firefighters were deployed, the teacher said,
unfortunately the legs were broken and it really was so sad, she said, and
my cells swelled with love and sorrow for this beast
because I had seen a moose! Alive! They are magic! Monsters!
and swimming pools were for the kind of kids who didn’t
invite me to their birthday parties
thus when discussing the facts of this moose’s demise on that crumby public school carpet
I cried only from knowing how true and unfair it was
the firm circle of shame settled around this silly audacity for caring about another creature
and the same cells that swelled in love and sorrow calcified

I learned the shape of shame from a smelly yellow prophylactic that lived for three years in a drawer
in careless company with the ephemera of pubescence
(a diary, never locked; a notebook of bad poems, three black permanent markers, dried up; unsheathed CDs, weak dreams)
before that, it sat in a glass bowl around which we circled during Unitarian Sunday school sex-ed
where we learned what love felt like
and what it wasn’t supposed to, then reached our greedy preteen hands
and grinned like children grabbing candy as we scooped squishy, foreign foil-wrapped items
by half dozens, stuffing them in discreet paper bags and carrying then a mere and vague awareness of what
such a small slice of latex might one day mean to us
and three years later
it was with the same giddy glee and self-conscious confidence that I retrieved this banana-
flavored condom from the drawer when I decided that our love felt right and
I wasn’t afraid of what it could do,
we used it and boy did it stink
when that boy broke up with me a few weeks later in a Goodwill parking lot
“just not having fun anymore” and I realized it didn’t then or ever matter
in fact
I’d never even asked myself whether I thought we were in the first place

What I know is: I learned the shape of things from a kindergarten calendar,
a construction paper horseshoe,
mostly blues, at least for December which was my month, at the end of the arc of the birthday chart
I cannot shake
this shape
and it showed me that my first frames were false prophets
brightly papered arches a simulacrum but unseeable
and I will always need to consciously choose to see the seamless circle of months’ flowing
between January and December, I will always have to consciously know that
my worst self
she’s a false fear

Memorial Day 2020

a belly-up beetle resists my flicking finger
finds your leg, my book, anywhere on the slippery picnic blanket
determined to stay
as the girl with a shaved head stands
on roller skates, akimbo atop the park bench
at the center of our horizon
she raises two
middle fingers at the sirens as they swim by
and we smile at the masked dog walkers, the Frisbee bandits,
remembering how broken everything is and
feeling in love with it all anyway

3

I skitter between this jellyfish trickster and an awareness of her soft, slow sea
I am three:
brain
body
beatific I
some metric of disorganized thirds, disconnected
and dissimilar and the same
steady as a three-legged stool
staring listless down a three-pronged path
no choosing, all wrong
I can not at once think and be nor is this body present
when its seconds come for her thirds
looking inward I disappear from myself
thoughts perceptible on the periphery glow opaque
this engine only churns when the door is closed