- This is my sense of self-worth: A dog in the wintertime, skinny, sitting squat on the side of a country road. A dog, alone, cold, still and wide-eyed as the snow comes down.
- This is my pride: An arrow, honed for hunting. An arrow, sharp, laying underneath the last layer of skin, straight, alert, at the juncture where shoulder meets heart. A hierarchy of needs, and desire is in a crown.
- This is my capacity for love: A stone, small, flat, entirely colorless but infinitely textured. Just touch alone, the weight and temperature of it in the valley of your hand, is enough. No eyes or mouth, no music; the line of your fingers against a stone in the dark of a windowless room.
- This is my self-awareness: A morning like a mirror, clear, over the fields of a careful farmer’s sunflowers. The view from the school bus, head heavy with the truth that is all pain.
- This is my weakness: A frame of wood made to look like gold, and a series of ill-fitting paintings of paradise.
- This is my courage: A wind, a coat, butter cake wrapped in tinfoil. A painting of paradise.
- This is my ability to adapt: An opening to the ocean, occasional rain stippling the surface, and underneath a dove-gray blue whale, mid-song.
- This is my ability to trust:
- This is my sense of self-hatred: Hitting the tar road at seventy miles per hour, hands on the wheel like guns pointed at dogs; hitting the water at eighty miles per hour. Crawling up the rocks, driving home. Getting up in the morning. Doing it again, again, again.
I am this bad summer, slung sticky, and red-hot, across the new artificial grass framing the iceberg blue pool; I am the pink moon, hanging so heavy, as though close to splitting open, ripe; I make you pity the young sunbathers, the stars.
After the poison, before the antidote; cold-water current in a glassy lake, washed in colors of tiptoeing nighttime, licking the curve of the world, the last of the sweet orange late afternoon as it rests, stretched, soft, smooth, over treetops; tasting.
You are this telephone pole, at the end of summer; you are the zebra crossing, under the moon. Sunbathers will reach to steal stars before I can return home without feeling the shape of your memory, close and colossal, soaked into the porous material of my pink-rind life. You are the breath between glowing pomegranate seeds; you are the air in the well of which there is no deeper, clogging with that wait, that want; you make me pity the best summers.
After the poison, before the antidote; center of the desert, the deserter, running only to find you, mirage of cooling green, waist-deep and expectant, ripe, your pretty fingers and long, bad mouth, you, reaching; taking.
ARIES, TURN FERAL: You’ll be more domestic animal than humanoid; oily blood and salt fish will be more yours than maple sugar and liquid sunsets. You don’t just break hearts, you eat them. Everyone likes a little tenderness, yes? But they think love, and you’re thinking chewable.
TAURUS, BLEED OUT: That blue-black night when you accidentally drop your briefcase on the subway floor not once but twice, don’t you dare take the short-cut through the yellow wheat fields home. Those Capricorn boys don’t care for you, they will cut your hair with butterfly knives and sell your clothes to housewives.
GEMINI, SKIP TOWN: There’s a spot behind the burger joint, you know which one. When your Pisces mother kicks you out, walk the two blocks there and feel the onion-sweet, beef-thick air in the dark until it snags underneath you; pull, pull. The fabric of this dimension will dissolve at the acid of your palm and perseverance, creating a hole two feet across, into a new universe. It’s just big enough you to jump in headfirst. No, I can’t tell you if you’ll be any happier, should you go.
CANCER, ACCEPT IT: You’ve got no beauty, but you will be lucky. You ugliest, worthiest of queens: rise.
LEO, MAKE LOVE: If you’re going to kiss him, do it at the pulse point, the throat, first like a wolf then like a married man, and keep at it until he forgets his mama’s name. Good. Get a tattoo afterwards (might I suggest a lion? No? Too obvious? A dragon, then.) If you’re out looking for a quickie, consider picking up an Aries. They’re biters, though; beware.
VIRGO, DON’T GO SLOW: On the day the city floods, hike up your skirts and run. You can’t cheat Death, but you can beat him up, if you find and catch him unguarded (his favorite victim, a sweet-tempered, curly-haired Aquarius, was taken during a storm; so now Death sleeps during rain. All villains have something they’d rather never remember.)
LIBRA, WANT IT: But don’t say it, don’t touch it, not yet. Some things must be courted before they are killed. Wait. Soon you will sink your hands in, run your tongue through. A warning: wanting is a kind of cheating, sometimes, and even if you get away with it, that won’t make it worthwhile.
SCORPIO, SPIT: Onto the sidewalk, and then into the fire, before you start up your brew. Eye of newt is a little old-fashioned, how about the heart of a Taurus?
SAGITTARIUS, WRITE: Last month’s paycheck was cut in half, and your blouse will disappear from the laundromat (Leo looks better in it. Sorry.) It’ll be alright. Sit at your kitchen table, half-naked, and finish your stories.
CAPRICORN, BE CRUEL: You are hungry. So feed.
AQUARIUS, COME HOME: Count your wounds and gather your things. You gave it your best shot, but it’s time to call it a day. Don’t fall asleep on the subway; don’t run the risk of a Libra’s love. Your body is demonic, but never rotting; can the same be said of the side of the angels? Those bastards are falling, every which way.
PISCES, IT’S OKAY TO CRY: You’re still here, aren’t you? Yes. Yes. Yes, you are. Say it with me, and then repeat it: yes, I am.
I am traveling. On the second floor of a train, knees pressed to my chest; I have not slept in two days, my mind is a terrible place.
The trees are barely visible in the swollen dark, but thin branches spread up and out, gracing the curves of my peripheral vision; they tremble a little, a colorless, sleepless parade spiraling out along the tracks. The train is an incautious and indelicate creature, shaking hard, making disconsolate sounds. My face is dirty, and my hair lies in a dry coil at the base of my neck. Sweat dotting the insides of arms, coffee stains like animal stripes on the sleeves of my down jacket: it’s easy to see where I have been, the symptoms and saviors of my life are all about me, visible, deducible. I’m a victim at the scene of a crime, silhouette traced out in yellow tape, what’s the cause of death? And what are you going to tell me when I peel myself off the hardwood floor, scratch at the fingerprints of blood at my collarbone and ask where the nearest subway is, if I can go home now?
I’m not getting any rest tonight, that much is certain. So I pile my bags at my feet and keep watch, as wide swipes and swatches of land come and go. Patches of city, blurred out by motion and the gray morning hours, as though partially erased by a fidgeting and forgetful goddess. Spots of yellow-orange light flooding warehouses, parking lots, silver trucks. A factory, huffs of smoke, expanding and retracting in the air, like blood flowing down the tar roads or rainwater tonguing lazily at rock, just like your legs stretching out from underneath the sheets, curling around the piles of slightly wet laundry at the foot of your bed. Train tracks clot and congeal, dipping underneath bridges, around lakes that shine like oil spills in the night, skimming the surface of the planet, taking us along with it: anywhere, everywhere.
I don’t know where I am, sometimes. I’m caught between worlds, pinned underneath a membrane. Living feels like an out-of-body experience; see Emma walk, see Emma run. Someone I don’t know is walking around in my clothes, and I hang from traffic lights, watching them cross the street in the old jean jacket I took from my mother, in my black slacks and chapped lips. I won’t grab at their shoulders, yank them into an alley and steal it all back, I won’t pull my fleshy, stretch-marked skin over my knees and talk with my real eyes. I don’t feel safe, or trustworthy, not yet. Is this what growing up feels like? Is that what growing up is (deciding: I am dangerous)?
Cities split into suburbs: neat rows of pastel-colored houses, lawn ornaments. Then the sidewalks disappear and green-bright, nut-brown fields whiz past, lines of buds tended by old hearts in wife-beaters, blessed in the springtime by the bees that lay low and silent now, pressed into the cells of their golden hives. Boarded-up convenience stores, iceberg blue water towers, red barns: a little chewed-up at the edges, but all the more beloved. These towns don’t warrant a mention on the map, but there are men here who will be born in puddles of slick blood on cotton blankets and who will be buried near the fringe of trees, caked by cold and dirt, underneath Midwestern petunias; they will live out the entirety of their days in homes that are more unknown to the rest of mankind than the outlying strips of the universe.
It’s seven in the morning, now. I’m eating an overpriced chocolate bar, rolling sugar in my mouth, and my head lolls against the seat, and I am fighting sleep. The train turns a corner and I see the river; the first river in over a year. It hits me hard in the face, a fistful of gunshots, gold dust. I never realized that those threads and layers of water, strung out across the bowl of the land, could mean so much; my heart grows in some indeterminate but definite way. The sky, rubbed raw, is softening slowly; there is sunlight coming through the creases, cracking the ribs in the curvature of the Earth, soaking in like ink through paper veins, like time oxidizing faces, fire through the cover of trees.
I am in a moment of my life and I can’t decide if I like it or not. I’m awfully confused. But, all things considered, this is a pretty world to be confused in.
I remember a good song and tap it out on the carpet, I finger the ticket stubs in my pockets, I watch warehouses, men, rivers and it reminds me of the places I have been, the people I have been in those places. I have been the dollop trollop, I have been lady disquiet, I have been the corpse under your floorboards. I have been the songbird, the murderer, I have been the child lost in the forest. I am dangerous now, but I have been safe. Where do I have to go, to be safe again?
I am traveling. I have not slept in two days; my mind is a terrible place.