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like blood from a stone

from by old gray

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there's a girl, a tall girl, with eyes like honeycomb
& jasmine. sometimes she blows cigarette smoke
in your face in the break room, and you call that love.
not because it is, but because you want it to be,
because you're so goddamned lonely, so goddamned
unable to handle the ocean roar in your ears
when you're alone. you tell yourself that the ash
in your lungs is a kiss goodnight, and you write poems
about the smoke tendrils whispering off her lips,
how beautiful they are, like the aching arms of god
you want them to be. one night, you're tired,
so very tired, your eyes as heavy as water. you forget
where you are, in the break room at a walmart at 2:30
in the morning. you leave your notebook unattended
on the table, left out for anyone in the world to see,
and one of your coworkers picks it up. he reads the poems
you wrote about the girl with honeycomb & jasmine
in her eyes. you panic when you realize what just happened,
because the boy who just picked up your notebook,
he's a cruel boy, with eyes like shotguns & razorwire.
he buys you razorblades on your birthday
so you can do the job right the next time,
you fucking freak, and you can't believe that
you aren't one, can't believe you deserve to be
anything. some days you don't even try to hide
the angry marks on your arm, like your skin is a test
where you got every question wrong. one night,
there's a box-cutter with a brand new blade, a stack
of cardboard boxes begging to feel its tooth. you dig in
but something's wrong, the fiber's too gnarled and you
can't seem to cut clean. you push, hard as you can,
feel the stiff tangle of glue give way, and there's blood
on the floor, the blade half an inch in your wrist,
but you don`t feel it. the shift manager’s in your ear,
angry because he has to take you to the hospital.
there's a janitor who'll forever hold it against you
for staining his clean, clean floor, and there's everyone
you work with & their hostile eyes glaring, knowing
this was coming all along. there's that cacophony, all
those ghosts reminding you of your destiny for failure.
and there's another blade, and there's a bottle of pills,
a fifth of vodka, a hospital visit, two weeks of inpatient
while your whole family prays for you to get better.
there's a doctor with blank eyes who never looks at you.
he’s always scribbling things on his clipboard. everything
you say, he documents. even when you're not talking to him.
you don't smoke, but you still go out for smoke breaks
with everyone else on the ward because there's nothing else to do
but stare at the walls, and wait for the next group session
to start, so you hang out in the courtyard, not smoking cigarettes
but still befriending those who do. and there's a man, maybe
ten years older than you, with eyes like roughcut pine & sunset.
he notices you don't smoke so he tries to stay downwind from you
so he doesn’t exhale in your face. he tells you it's okay bud,
we'll get through this and be better when we leave this place
than we was when we got here. he's telling you the truth,
and you believe him. one day the doctor who doesn't look at you
comes to your room and tells you that your insurance isn't paying
for any more days, so you're all better now, and you leave.
your mom picks you up in the lobby. her eyes are the most worried
kindness you've ever seen. and you go home. and you fight off
the ghosts, which is easier now than it was before, because now
you have a better set of tools today. and your life goes on
like it was meant to, like you were always supposed to survive
the fight. you stop writing poems about smoke tendrils trailing
off the lips you once wanted to kiss, or about how your loneliness
is so unbearable, because now you write poems about how to stay
alive. you write poems about the places you feel at home
rather than the places you wish you could be. one day, you catch
a glimpse of someone in the mirror, and there you are, eyes
like stubbornness & struggle, like the brick buildings in abandoned
factory towns that refuse to completely fall. you look at all the scars,
the history etched into your arms like a road map
of where you used to be vs. the endless possibilities
of where you are and where you can go now.
and the smoke tendrils, once midnight black
& swirling above your head, break away, leaving
nothing in your view except the sky. and it is so perfect,
and so clear.


from slow burn, released December 9, 2016



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