i pulled a napkin from the silver tin, wiped the table clear, drops of ketchup staining the center. i crushed the paper in my palm, felt the dampness reach the edges.
hurt cloud, she said as i let it roll across the table.
shooting baskets as the day ended, the ball went over the backboard, disappeared into the dark. she shrugged, then bent low, picked up pebbles. aimed and threw.
your poor hands, she said. you have so many scars, and you're still so young. (she, younger than i, saying this)
she touched one hand, then after a pause she took the other without looking at me.
some things take so much courage.
we sat like that for a long time, perfectly still.
i passed two old women by the river. one stopped, pulled off her shoe and shook a pebble out.
it dropped into the water and she continued on, limping slightly from the absence dented into her foot.
the other had stopped a ways ahead. she waited and said, a pebble?
the woman nodded. her whole life having led her there, she was carried away again.
a memory: the night i was married, while everyone danced and ate beneath the lights, i kept my fingers on my bride's knee beneath the table. the fabric of her dress and the skin beneath slid when i moved my hand.
her bone flashing white, her shape gathering in the hardness, so white it ached, so hard it changed.
i covered my face with my other hand. when she saw she put her hand on my knee and we were really married then.
my dog stopped eating, only took morsels. her ribs became prominent. it made me wince to run my hand over the sharp ridge of her spine.
her belly grew, and became hard. at the clinic, the vet knelt down to inspect her.
he pressed on her sides and stayed like that for a minute. she looked at me, then stared at the floor.
there is a tumor in her abdomen, it has grown quite large. he rose, folded his hands and spoke gently. there is nothing we can do.
okay, i said. something hard stuck in my throat, kept me from swallowing.
there is one window i keep open no matter what. it faces west, toward the river you can hear but not see.
there is a row of stones on the windowsill, small forms that are a relief, hard and anonymous and ancient.
i sit and run my fingers back and forth over them. they wobble and dance, then recover.
put me under, cover my face, stuff my lungs with your chemical lies.
if they were to take me apart, slice open my chest, peel back the skin keeping me whole, they would find:
a. one heart, slowly ticking. (they would not find anything, but they would have to say they did. after all, girls can't live without a heart. they forget that i'm not the first: a score of girls walking even though they should have faded long ago.)
b. each rib curved so perfectly, a shield around my lungs. (a cage, keeping my breath from bursting out of my skin. know that this is just me, held together by nature, unable to lose control of myself.)
c. two sacs of cells, nestled beside each other. (no first-hand smoke here, no sir. only second-hand dust, only things i could not get rid of, only bits of places i've been, caught in my body. postcards of memories i can't see.)
d. a skeleton, still and alive. (sleeping, with blood cells being produced in the hollows of my curves. the rattling of my bones cannot be heard, but if it could, my skeleton would tell you all my secrets. it would beg you, please don't leave me. i never fought the monsters under my bed, i just turned them into the skeletons in my closet, the skeletons i wear inside of my body.)
“Nothing in the world scares me as much as bulimia. It was true then and it is true now…It feels very much as if you are possessed, as if you have no will of your own but are in constant battle with your body, and you are losing. It wants to live. You want to die. You cannot both have your way. And so bulimia creeps into the rift between you and your body and you go out of your mind with fear. It is incredibly frightening when it finally sets in with a vengeance. And when it does, you are surprised. You hadn't meant this. You say: Wait, not this. And then it sucks you under, and you drown.”
i. it was all skinned knees and stop signs between us. we pushed too hard or not hard enough.
ii. the last star i wished upon turned out to be a satellite, and the last time i kissed you really wasn't the last time.
the scent of romance- pine needles and sawdust clung to my shoulders where your fingers left goose flesh when i least expected it.
iii. i'd be tangled up in you and bed sheets if i didn't know you better than that, [sweetheart,] you're thunderstorms on Saturday nights and "Why don't you stay for awhile"'s and the infidelities that line my cheeks.
he now resides in susurration: shaken from our summer sheets, flags drawn taut and shuddering, and wispseeds rising into the light with their dressing gowns unbuttoned, planting onto my lips that name i've tried to hang with himself;
on a late morning, while folding your laundry, i found him again and held his tongue when he yearned to speak of love that once transpired in his passion, or maybe it was the infatuation of surrealists: brown skin but touched upon each other,
marking the insignificant with brands of remembrance: like the crinkling of tinfoil or the crisping of smokers' lungs or the thought that cigarettes are only romantic if you can witness their glow or hear them faintly burning—
white ash rests on the dashboard and his fingers are caked with rust in my flashbulb drug collections: the color of blood that's been drying in my mouth while i try to recall how it felt to hold someone who might have come and remained forever breathing if that letter had never reached my door:
blue ink reminds me of death, black of his pupils, and red of ghosts who awaken when one unfolds paper.