venango county: hills, valleys, slopes carved with dusty roads trailing fox, deer, black bear.  venango county: slow drawl, long cigarette drag in hot summer sun, miller lite iced in the bed of a pickup truck.  venango county & the weapons it taught me to carry: car keys, insect repellant aerosol can, pocket knife.  venango: beer belly, tender mouth, tanned arms of a working man; jealousy & possession, lady lost & won in a bar fight, suet & birdsong, trumpet vine & campfire smoulder.  venango silent, venango’s dry hands & my body covered light.  venango home, venango longing, venango in my blood i cannot go (i can’t, cannot go).


when tennyson first goes to the hospital, months before his death, you sit in his empty recliner next to jackie & you ask, do you miss him?  jack communicates with subtlety, an ever-so-slight head shake for no, minute nod of the eyes & eyebrows for yes.  to this question, he says no.  you know, to some degree, that this is a lie, but you let it go.  you carefully swab his mouth clean, wipe out his eyes, shave his face smooth.  on the shower cart, he warbles & groans; you tell him to save it for the opera, ask if he needs more money for better singing lessons (the current ones aren’t working).  you talk about his day, who he teased & why.  after his shower you ask, do you feel like a million bucks? & he nods yes.  you count higher–two million?  three million? four million?–& he wiggles his eyebrows yes, yes, yes, until he says no.  incredulous, you say, you have to feel like at least five million; get back on that bath cart, we have to do it again until i get it right, & he laughs, a laugh that you cannot quite describe–burble of cool water on a scorching day, sunlight filtering through a fan of leaves–but it is flint against the knife of your heart.  you sit him in front of the mirror & say, look at this handsome man, & he nods yes at you, at himself.  later, he will try to look down your shirt & you will pretend that you are appalled; your co-worker will throw you shrieking into his bed, & the two of you will laugh until you cannot breathe.

but the pain of venango becomes too great — your parents’ separate betrayals, your brother’s refusal to stand beside you, the discomfort of speaking incest aloud, tennyson lost despite the fight.  all your life, you struggle to stand tall & say to a world trying to suck your pockets, heart, & bones dry: i am worth something, & i am alive, & this place–river rising, forests cool as creek water, crickets & peeper frogs, orange flowers with seeds springing high–conjugates you into verbs too quiet, too still; you cannot move, & so you must go.  you love, & you lose, the loss thick as molasses through your lungs, & you leave.

in the weeks before you depart, you tell jackie, i’ll be home in january to visit you, & i’ll bring my boyfriend.  you’re not going to look at his butt, are you?  you are?  my god, & you laugh, the two of you, & you say, i love you, & you are so special to me.  you send cards to fill your absence, & you return like you say you will, & a week after your first visit, he dies.  it isn’t like losing tennyson, when you wondered if you had done enough, given enough, expressed enough, when his death was a slow build & there was time to practice, to prepare yourself for letting go because you knew you would have no choice.  jack’s passing is a brick thrown through the window of your heart.  the words that arrive: shatter, splinter, smash.  you are the smithereens he leaves behind.



months come, months go.  my new job is unpredictable, & i am unable to set boundaries between my life & my work, so my work becomes my life & i bury my grief: easy.  i wear my best Damaged Girl Passing, & i blend right into the wallpaper, pondskating over the surface of my life while ignoring the whirligig beetles & common newts swimming in the deeper water.  some days, in the twilight between napping & waking, or during the quiet early-morning commute, my longing for these men devastates, an itch in my bones, a deep breath that evades my lungs, & i dunk my head into the cold, murky water.  it’s been told before–grief, the way it chills the blood & how the heart just goes to sleep–& i cannot tell it now.  i wish to pause, to allow the sadness to linger, but i cannot let it.  instead, i carry of them what i am able: arrangement of spider plant, fern, & christmas cactus, stack of CDs from pete, the male nurse who drew tennyson’s blood at each hospital visit leading to his death; a palm-sized green bear jack claimed was his son, victoria junior;  their dinner dance portraits across a span of years.  jackie, my peanut butter pickle, my padeedledoodle, my laughing man roped in sunlight.  tennyson, keeper of rainbow pinwheels, jangling necklaces, fireworks cascading over water–root beer, dr. pepper, chocolate milkshakes & french fries; pirate parrot, elvis presley, & santa claus.

they come to me, & i ask: without you, who will i be?  who can i be?

i am left with this, among the space their absence makes: house plants, CDs, a tiny bear, photographs.



those are always the questions: without you, who will i be?  who can i be?  specter, afterthought, girl draped in blue.  child of cornfields & jaggerbush, strawberry fields & deer flashing white tails, slow & dusty roads.  creek water trickle, cedar waxwing flutter, footprint of a salamander.  the girl goes quietly in the night to escape venango heavy in her bones, but it follows: shadow, whisper, residual.


the silences i carry

it’s like this: you get busy.  your studio apartment swells into a cluttered mess–banana peel & empty food packages sprawling the counter, sink piled high with dishes starting to stink, bed awash with paper & note cards, a stray highlighter or pen.  your split your time between double shifts, meal prep, & the peace you smoke from a glass pipe, & the getting busy hushes all your thinking parts.

when i was younger–fifteen, eighteen, twenty-two–i spent hours at my computer, fingers frantic at the keys while my stereo buzzed with neutral milk hotel, martha wainright, damien rice.  i fed myself the alphabet & nourished my body & mind with words that mattered–if not to anyone else, to me.  i was the mad woman in the attic awake all night chain-smoking cigarettes & drinking peppermint schnapps from the bottle straight.  writing was all i could do to stop from exploding or lighting myself on fire.

now, at twenty-seven, it’s hard to find the words, & when i do, i tell myself they don’t matter, that it is better to be quiet & safe than to speak & be made dangerous.  i say that i am too busy.  i create endless messes & find infinite distractions that draw me, again & again, away from this page.  i preoccupy myself with things rustling in the future, just beyond any horizon i can see, & pretend not to see the gun powder, the roman candles, the book of matches nearby.  i create silence, hold it till my lungs burn.


i write, i can’t write, then i erase.  i hiccup-stutter-stop in trying to begin, & i try, & i try, & then i am quiet.  as i try, tenney, a man i have cared for almost every day for the past six months, is dying in a hospital in pittsburgh, & i don’t want to let him go.  a co-worker tells me, wanting to keep him, that’s the selfishness in us, but we can’t wish him back into who he was.

it’s like this: i don’t know how to process grief without muting my loud heart with self-destructive impulses.  i can’t allow myself to feel pain without minimizing & berating my experience. i am the drunk girl forever-crying at the party who can’t grow beyond the hurt done to her. i tell myself, you were molested, so what? & think of janet saying, not everything is the result of your relationship with your father.  some things are just because.

so it’s like this: i was molested & nobody listened & now i loathe my voice. or it’s like this: i was born or nurtured into shoulders too small to carry hurt & anger & disappointment without ruining myself first. either way, i can’t grow up, & i can’t parent myself into the adult i’d like to become, & so i tell the same story again, again, again, the reincarnation of the child who cannot grow beyond her own shadow &, instead, becomes peter pan ad infinitum.

the pastor says, as we speak, two of our chaplains are with tennyson.  my supervisor calls to say he probably won’t make it through the night.


for two years, the father attempts to initiate contact with the daughter he abused.  the first few attempts are timid, silly emails–hello, i can’t seem to reach you; give me a call sometime, & wal-mart pharmacy called my house wanting to speak with you.  the next, ambiguous, wistful apologies–i can’t change the past; maybe in another life.  he tells his son, i hope that before i die, your sister will talk to me.  when his emails receive no reply, then he gets a little coy.  he writes on a sheet of paper & slips it into the mail:


I have been reading your letter daily and thinking about it throughout the day.
I have been trying to figure out a way to make this right.
Then, all of a sudden, it came to me.
There is nothing “I” can do to straighten this out.
“YOUR” terms prevent me from doing anything.

You know my address.  But letters will not work.
You know my phone number.  But a call will not do.
“FACE TO FACE” when you are ready.


when the daughter doesn’t speak a peep, a few months later he explodes, once again emailing: Molested??? REALLY!!!!  You base your relationship with me on ONE statement by your mother.       DUMB ASS

first, the daughter shuts down.  she thinks, i’d rather be dead than deal with this again.  she craves cigarettes & pizza & chocolate & wounds to her skin, but she tells herself, just sit with this.  be still.  let it pass, & it does.  this time, she does not die.  instead, she gets mad.


when i was thirteen & first told my mom i felt funny around my dad, we were two betrayed girls tossing out throwaway phrases like, if he ever touched you– & if he ever hurt you& i thought, because she glowed red-hot with her anger, that she had a plan.  i thought we, together, would leave.  if he ever touched you– & if he ever hurt you– fizzled, a trail of smoke from a candle blown out.  we stayed for years–i was fourteen, then fifteen, sixteen, & still living with a man who terrified me.  she found a new man.  she left without me.

these days my mother says, if i had known, we would have been out of there, lickety-split.  we would have been gone so fast.  i didn’t try so hard for so many years to have kids just so he could ruin them.  when we talk about my dad, she wants to talk about all the ways he betrayed her, i think to justify having an affair & leaving him, the version of him that she thought was a perfect husband who could give her everything.  she used to say, i was so stupid to leave your dad.  now she says, i was so stupid.  i didn’t know.  uh-uh.  i had no idea.

throughout my life, my mom has used her “stupidity” as a reason not to do a lot of things.  her dream was to be a nurse, but she was “too stupid” & hated–still hates–reading books.  she has never read my poems or stories because she is “too stupid” to understand them.  when her boyfriend expressed how hungry he was for me, she allowed him to come home from his week-long stay at a psychiatric ward &, years later, added it to the list of “too stupid” things she did.

i write, & when i get to the parts where i might say too much, i tell myself to be good.  be nice.  be a good girl, not a bad, bad baby.


i started to get mouthy when i was ten or eleven, maybe twelve.  when i think of being angry as a child, i have two distinct memories.  in the first, i am with my mother in her van at my elementary school, & we are leaving early for a doctor’s appointment or a piano lesson.  i am angry about something, & the anger is so big it overwhelms my insides & leaks from my  mouth.  it covers me like lava, & i am drowning in it, blinded, until my mother slaps my face.  i become very still, & then i get quiet.  i get good.  i can’t remember whether i cried.  i’m sure, later, that i did.

in the second memory, i am younger, & i am angry again.  it is summer-becoming-fall, late afternoon but still bright with sunlight.  i rage on & on at my mother, & my mother tells me that she is leaving & never coming back, & then she goes.  she goes, & i feel satisfied, & she is still gone.  it starts to get dark, & i begin worrying.  in my memory, i look for her in the woods & at the neighbors’ house, but in my gut, i know this is a lie. i remember lying in my bed, & i remember crying.  i remember taking the anger i felt toward my mother & sharpening it into daggers that i used to pierce my own guts.  before i fell asleep, i convinced myself that she was dead–kidnapped, hit by a car, eaten by bears–& that it was my fault.  that this is what happened to girls who were mad, & that it was better to be otherwise.  to be quiet, to be good.

late that night, my mother came home alive, but in her absence i had learned.


tenney’s first night in the pittsburgh hospital, i go home & self-medicate in whatever ways are available to me, & then, because my heart still aches, i lie awake imagining him, doubting that i made it clear enough the last time i saw him that he is loved.  that i love him.  that, always, he will be loved.

after months of intermittent stays in the hospital, the paramedics arrive in tenney’s hospital room at 4:15 on a wednesday to transfer him to a stretcher, & the nurses ask me to sit in the waiting room.  when i am allowed to see him again, i touch his shoulder & say, make sure they don’t drive too fast, tennyson.  have a safe trip.  they’re going to take good care of you at the hospital.  behave yourself flirting with all the nurses; don’t go coming back here with a hundred more girlfriends.  i want to keep talking until he looks at me & smiles, because then i can know that he & i both will be OK, that there is a chance he will come back, but he doesn’t.  the paramedics tighten a strap across his arms & he winces, barely murmuring oww, his face bunched-up, his mouth a wide O.  his eyes are closed tight, & he is shaking.  i touch his shoulder one more time, & when he doesn’t open his eyes, i say, i’ll see you soon.  when i leave the room, his eyes are still closed.

tonight, when tennyson’s breath is sustained by two liters of oxygen, his calories fed to his stomach through a tube in his nose, instead of getting drunk or high or sick on too many sweets, i tell myself to be brave, to be still, to be silent.  in the space my quiet creates, a flood of stories, too many to tell, a bad girl too tired with grief for the telling.  when she can begin, the story will go like this: years & years ago, a man named tennyson was born, his legs fragile as glass birds, infection already brewing in his bones, & he outlived anyone’s diagnoses & expectancies of him.  in all of the girl’s memories with him, he is smiling, his head shaking just a little. there’s warmth in the pause & their silence as he looks at her, & she sees him thinking, & then he says, i love you, jessie, like her caring is a nugget of gold or a hunk of the moon.  he smiles, his eyes bright.  reflected in his glasses, a version of herself she can see clearly, barely a shadow: a good girl, loved first simply for loving in return.



early summer, 1999.  i am twelve years old, hunkered on the damp green grass by the spigot outside our garage door.  i am wearing my favorite shorts, a slippery pair in greying lime, & favorite t-shirt, one ringed with thick stripes–blue, purple, pink–& thin ones, white, yellow, & green.  my arms wrap my knees, my head rests atop my arms, & i am daydreaming, maybe humming, when i notice the red spot seeping along the stitching at my inner thighs.  instinctively, my hand touches & i wonder, does it hurt?, the blood a signal for wincing, cringing, ginger touch, my stomach knotted.  i go inside & change my clothes, park my body on the toilet & dab with tissue, wondering over & over, does it hurt?  later, when i timidly show my mother my stained shorts, her voice is a minor chord of pity & disappointment.  i retreat to my bedroom, to my junior girl scout handbook.  night after night i return to the same pages written in the voice of a gentle knowing older sister.  i apply the words to my skin like a salve: menstruation, menarche, hormones, puberty.  i read the words again & again, waiting with each pass for that older sister’s pride & quiet excitement to swell in me as i process my breach into adulthood, womanhood.  at the end of those nights, i fall asleep heavy with loss, uncertainty, shame.


after that first bleed, my periods came sporadically, two or three times a year.  i saw my family doctor & had blood drawn to test my hormone levels & thyroid when i was both thirteen & seventeen, each visit prompted by my frustration & embarrassment at surprise periods during school.  i remember toting along my calendars filled with records of my period history to the first appointment, clutching my mother’s hand when they inserted the needle & watching the blood spurt, my head turning into a helium balloon.  both times i was told not to worry, that my test results looked good & my body would eventually fall into the rhythm it was meant to have.

that rhythm became two to four periods per year.  at nineteen, at twenty-one, at twenty-three i sought answers again.  each doctor drew blood & performed ultrasounds, all of which came back fine, & then used the opportunity to peddle birth control.  i remember a nurse practitioner urging me that i couldn’t trust my partner at the time because of his number of previous partners, & that i spent the rest of the afternoon huddled in bed after he & i fought, & that he bought me an ugly bouquet of flowers to apologize but still refused to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases.  i remember, later, a doctor telling me i should consider myself lucky–that many women wish they could have so few periods & pump their bodies full of hormones to have my experience.  i remember my body: burden, loathsome, & how i shoved it onto scales, stuffed it with cakes & cookies, starved it.  body, pillowy & freckled, pale defunct junk.


my sophomore year of college, i studied poetry with a man who would go on to sexually harass, manipulate, & assault his students, eventually impregnating one & moving with her into her parents’ basement.  before i knew him as a predator, he taught me to twist words like origami, smudged my pages with thumbprints of peanut butter & jelly & wrote, this is a bunch of noise, circling words like twinkle & jotting, don’t ever use this word in a poem again, sometimes stutter-stopping my breath when he scribbled at the bottom of my pages, i wish i wrote this.  after the first class with him, high on his praises, i signed up for another.

one of the books on his syllabus in that second class was nin andrews’s the book of orgasms, & when he read the poems to our class, he chuckled each time he said orgasm, his laughter like a soft touch to the small of my back after one too many drinks at a bar, & i left those classes feeling small & cheapened by the woman’s words he used like a so-hip party trick told at a circle-jerk at the boys’ club.  so when he asked us to model a poem after andrews’s “the orgasm: an interview,” i chose to interview my period & read my poem to the class aloud.  it was an awful poem that didn’t receive from me the amount of thought it deserved, but as i read the last question & my period’s response — Q: What about high school girls in white dresses?  A: What better time to train a young girl that even her own body can’t be trusted not to betray her? — i hoped my words sailed into that professor’s gut like a punch, that my classmates would avoid me around campus, their eyes lowered to the ground.  the response was not overwhelming — i can’t remember it.  i imagine an awkward pause, the professor clearing his throat, another student rising to read her work.

weeks later, when i was slow to answer to a question he’d asked, the professor snapped, or were you too busy having your period to do the reading?  heat popped into my cheeks.  i can’t remember what i said, if anything, but i hope that it was brave.  i hope that my voice rose to protect me like a shield, that i didn’t cower or allow my eyes to drift to the floor.  i hope that i didn’t allow him to make me feel shame.


age twenty-six.  a pregnancy scare & recently-acquired health insurance prompt another visit with yet another different doctor.  unsurprisingly, she orders blood work & an ultrasound, which–unsurprisingly–come back fine.  at the follow-up appointment she chirps that you are cured of polycystic ovarian syndrome, a diagnose you were never given.  you say, i don’t accept that.  i won’t take hormones.  i need you to do more.  she frowns, smiles at the intern at her side, & recommends a consultation with a reproductive endocrinologist.  when you meet him, he, too, recommends blood work & an ultrasound, stating that the previous doctors’ tests were not detailed enough & that your issue may stem from the sexual trauma of your childhood.  he wants to see you at his office in pittsburgh, & he smiles a tired smile, asking, ok, kid?

you schedule the follow-up appointment so that D can accompany you.  the doctor talks selectively about the results from the blood test, speaking directly to your boyfriend to say, this level is the equivalent of four women.  she’s like four women!  he mentions all the eggs spied during the ultrasound–they stop counting after twenty-eight, he says, & when he smiles his eyes close, like he is losing himself in the fog of a sweetest dream.  you expect his next words to be absolutely fine, but they’re not.  instead he says, you meet two of three criteria for a diagnosis of polycystic ovarian syndrome & recommends–as each doctor has always recommended–hormones to induce periods.

it takes a long time to get home.  before leaving the city & its tall, tall buildings with twinkling lights, you stop for dinner & coffee with your best friend & the girlfriend you’re meeting for the first time.  the conversations stay light; your friend is giddy & tired from his first week at a new job working as a deckhand on a towboat, & his girlfriend is spunky & sweet.  you laugh up until it is time to leave, & it isn’t until you are half an hour away from home that you begin to cry in the car.  your head is abuzz–surgery to conceive, uterine cancer, high likelihood of miscarriage, your ovaries strung with pearls, your body once again an opponent in a game you can’t win.  you cry, what about ukulele baby?, already grieving the loss of a child you’ve only dreamed.  D puts his hand on your knee & squeezes.

when you get home, you expect him to begin his three-hour drive home immediately.  but instead of gathering his things, D lies down in your bed & draws you over with the motion of his index finger.  he cradles you, nesting your body in the crook of his arm.  a tide pool leaks from your eyes, & you wipe your runny nose into his t-shirt at the shoulder.  he tsks, he-ey-ey-ey now, & you laugh, & then you begin to cry again.  for the first time in the two years you’ve been dating, he is more than a witness to your sadness; the partition between your feelings & his has dissolved, & he is a participant, his eyes glossy, the corners of his lips down-turned, a man made breakable by his love for you.

you go on like this for a long time–crying & laughing & then crying again–until you are spent, the welts of your eyes swollen-red & sandpapery, your sinuses stuffed.  when you are quiet, he gives himself permission to collect his things.  then he says, let me tuck you in, placing kisses on your forehead, your eyelids, your cheeks, your mouth.  when he creeps down the stairs, you rise from bed & follow him out, the tears coming again.  it is nearly midnight.  buttery-yellow light melts against your bodies hugging in the center of the one-way street.  he kisses your forehead, your nose.  he says quietly, i worry about you, & you blink slowly, once, twice, thrice, the length of time it takes to let him go.


tonight, the moon

is the trauma victim frozen in the past, or is the past a persistent and inappropriate intruder on the present?  or, do the past and the present coexist, with no perceptual boundaries separating them?

–robert scaer, trauma spectrum

tonight the moon is low, a white peach cradled by a night velvet & rich as dirt.  i drive through corn fields, past the abandoned school, & watch the brake lights of other cars, my co-workers, travelling through the trees.  the hillside swallows the sky, a mountain, & in this spring nighttime i am reminded of the boy in my ninth grade history class who loved the same songs that now ride with me on the way home, & the way everything became something, a language of outsiders revealing secrets in casual conversation & common gestures.  janet says, as children, we think we have power over the entire world.  when something bad happens, we attribute it to ourselves, to things that we did to cause the bad things to happen, & when we speak up in the best way we can–crying, refusing to go to the grocery store–we feel we are screaming at the top of our lungs.  at fourteen, i keep my secretness tucked close, the meat of me a hard rainbow glitter inside a walnut shell, while sending up signal flares only i can see.  adam sings, waiting here for you.  wanting to tell you.  how i get my ends & my beginnings mixed up, too.  just the way you do.


tonight you line the kitchen counter with beer bottles.  in the dark you remove your clothes, hoist open the bedroom window, & pop out the screen.  out, out, you stretch a leg, toes skimming rough shingles.  you steady, balance, bend your body & emerge onto the roof, chubby girl with moon-white skin, knees tugged tight to her chest.  the neighbors with loud motorcycles & too many wild babies are fighting across the street, behind a window draped with a spider-man sheet, & the boy next door who smokes more cigarettes than you do isn’t home tonight.  you add this to the list of things you will do again & again & never tell your mother.  you are twenty-three, one hundred miles away from home, & building a life of secrets, separateness, satisfaction in small rebellion.


tonight i am four years old, lying in the back seat of my mother’s van on the way to the babysitter’s house, & we are racing the moon, a coin of buttery-slow mozzarella.  time glows green, dashed & digital, between the two front seats.  reflected on the window where i am tracking the moon, blues & reds of heat dials & air controls.  when i am older, barely a teenager & unable to sleep, i will push my fingers to my eyelids to watch these same colors burst & play.  it is morning, but the world is sleeping still, fog rolling from the hillside like a damp breath.  i want to tell my mother hurry, but i am quiet because the telling takes too much.  instead, each morning i hope she will notice that i am awake, not asleep, & that she will ask, what are you doing back there? in a way that is warm & curious, not like a startle, & then i can tell her.  i can say, we are racing the moon, & if you hurry a little faster, maybe we could win this time.


at twenty-six, after eight years living in cities hours away from home, route 322 leads you back.  venango, onenge, otter, county sticky, still, with oil dried up years ago.  you take a job where your mother worked for thirty-five years, & on your way to that job, you travel the same numbered roads she did, you as her passenger, in the same moonlight, twilight, streetlamplight.  you stretch inside her shadow.  she clucks, you’re different than me, & she says “different” like “disappoint.”  you are four years old, the moon out of reach just-so, & you want to tell her but you can’t.  different, disappoint, your belly fizzy with beer, a bottle in your hand.  you want to tell, to tell her or the boy familiar with your favorite songs, to speak aloud, but the telling takes too much.  you pretend you are asleep, disappearing into the sum of yourself, & the person you are disappearing into, adam sings, you, stone glimmering just-beneath the dirt & leaves on a quiet hillside.


the slow return

after thanksgiving dinner at your mother’s, where your nephew eats three cupcakes for dinner & your mother’s boyfriend questions your boyfriend D to see what kind of man he is, D helps you hoist a slew of boxes up flights of stairs & into the attic efficiency that will be your new home.  the walls leak cold air & the smell of cigarettes seeps in from the apartment below, but the windows breathe in lots of wintry light & the space is big enough to stretch in but small enough to wrap you like a blanket or bathrobe.  together you fill the bookshelves with your favorite voices, then assemble & decorate a small, cheap christmas tree.  that night, after your bodies blend & sigh in your new-to-you twin bed, D tells you for the first time that he loves you.

a handful of days later, a week before his birthday & over a year after you mailed your severance package, your father sends an email:

Sorry. Started this at least a hundred times. All I can think of is “I’m sorry”. No explanations. Just I’m “sorry”. I wish things could have been different. Maybe in another life. I cannot change the past. “Sorry” to make your life so miserable. “SORRY”

it arrives in your life like a wrecking ball, a tornado, a fist pushing into your gut again & again.  which language to use?  to say it arrives when it detonates, crushes, demolates, lights you redhot, a fire in the center of your body that scorches to your throat.  devastates.  weeks later, the christmas gifts arrive–a check for five hundred dollars, a silver cat-shaped necklace with tiny diamonds.  the songbirds inside you clamor to fly out, a flurry of feathers & wings.  janet says, those are contributions toward a debt that will never be repaid.  so you cash the check.  you give the necklace away.

winter gets the best of you, as it always does.  you emerge from weeks of liquor-drenched nights still layered in fleece & flannel night clothes, your ankles tallying fresh scars, your apartment floor awash in lavender paper penned with ultimatums–if you try to find me, send anymore gifts, cross my boundaries, then…., the threats always ending in your death.  week after weekjanet repeats, a bad thing happened to you, but you are not bad.  the clocks spring forward.  robins hop at the side of the street, pecking through the salt & pebbles accumulated through winter.  they sing in early morning sunlight.  she says, you are allowed to feel pleasure, & she smiles when you tell her that you feel you’ve got nothing left, just a pile full of problems that all your self-destructive ways couldn’t solve.  so you lay it all down–the chocolate & lemon bars & ice cream, the glass bottles half-full of alcohol, the dreams of nicotine & your skin peeled like bark from a birch tree.  you lay it all down & return, again, to the blank page, to the steady, slow blink of the cursor waiting, always, for your nouns & verbs.


first elyse, who takes your insurance whosits & whatsits over the phone.  you say deductible, co-pay, & she says, wednesday.  you find the office tucked between a parking garage & a building spilling tables of fresh produce into the street.  the office is clean, a muted green.  she says, this is, like, a safe place for you.  absolutely.  she photocopies your insurance card; you sign privacy statement; she hands you a sheet detailing what psychotherapy is.  absolutely.  you spill your guts, let your wet, mucousy entrails vine: chair leg, vase of artificial cattails, bookshelf.  she says, at first you might need to see me a few times a week.  just to talk.  it won’t be easy.  she hands you the courage to heal & walks you to the door.  the following week, a handful of hours before your next appointment, she leaves a voicemail: i know that, like, you have financial concerns, & actually i’m not covered under your insurance, so you cancel the appointment — absolutely — & a week later, receive a bill for $100 in the mail.

second melinda, who scribbles notes about you in a packet of papers.  as you talk, she writes, & you look hard, snatching up the words your eyes can make out: alcohol abuse — denies — mother’s boyfriend — she asks, how long were you a cutter? & the question pierces you, twists your face into a hesitant question mark.  you ask, did i write that somewhere? & she clips, matter-of-factly, no.  at the end of the appointment, she challenges you to think about two things: one, quitting your job & moving back across the state to live with your boyfriend in a city where there are no jobs for you; & two, antidepressants.  you say, i’m not depressed; i took pills when i was a kid & i didn’t like the way they made me feel, & she says, you’re an adult now.  depression doesn’t mean crying & being sad all the time.  you say, okay.  i’ll consider it.  you cancel your second appointment with her the following day.

third, a hallelujah.  janet sits close, arms on her knees, listening.  she asks, honey, were you sexually abused as a child? & doesn’t tell you that, despite your non-memories, you are a liar.  she says, if it walks like a duck & talks like a duck, we call it a duck.  you’re carrying the aftermath.  she uses words like brave & resilient, asks–curious, interested–to see the taser you carry inside your mother’s house.  you tell her, i want to be bad, your voice carrying a laughter that wears a pitchfork & horns, & she asks, well, how are you going to be bad?  you shrug, smile, say, i don’t know; i just want to be bad, & together you laugh–not laughter that is polite, a courtesy, but loud, from the belly, heads tilted & tipped.  your homework, she says, think about your thoughts.  pay attention to those.  let’s get you feeling safe, & when you leave her office & are swept into the wind battering leaves, you think, this is it.  now we’re entering the big leagues, & you are up to bat, muscles flexed, ready to swing.

seven months’ summation

spring leads you to rivers & hills cascading trees, shopping malls & hot, split asphalt, chocolate mouthfuls & gin kisses, a bed with a body (warm).  summer is a languid sticky-taffy-stretch of yellow & blue, the way triple-scoop ice cream melts down the cone: that boy, the fan whirring from the window, your tanning, freckling bodies licked with sun.  summer, an opal flash, a cooling stone, a campfire dwindling in the damp night.

then fall finds you.  it walks you home, naming each river passing: susquehanna, clarion, allegheny lulling in your front yard.  you settle into a bedroom once stuffed with bear skin rugs, squirrels mounted to hunks of soft bark, deer heads with glassy black eyes, & you tuck your things quietly away, into crevices your silence left at sixteen, seventeen, between the girl you were (stolen cigarettes half-smoked at the window, razorblades tucked in jewelry boxes, notebooks fat with poems) & the girl your mother wished you to be (fairies, pink ceiling fan, wooden alphabet blocks spelling out your name).  the girls of your youth leave no room for the girl of your present, & so you parse her into confetti-size pieces to hide under the bed, in a sock drawer, behind a cabinet door.

shh.  shimmer, disappear.  shh.  your life quiets into a flat line, as if you were not there: ever, at all.  shh, shh, as fall tucks you into a bed of leaves, you who were never anything at all.