Story Problems 
If a boy gets on a train headed north at 12:21 in the morning carrying sunflowers and a plastic bag full of cherries, how many split seconds until I fall in love with the idea of him? How many stops until I look for you in the careful curve of his fingers, clutched tight to half a dozen sunflowers? 
And if the girl he is traveling towards stays faithful for the next twenty seven minutes, will they stay in love forever? Am I less than, greater than, or equal to the task of curbing my jealousy, of keeping myself from calling you?
Answer me this: do I even believe in an infinite love, which diverges like a line on a graph but carries on? I was told once that a line is a point in motion but I never really understood the point of mathematics until I tried to chart your affection for me, how it spiked when you spiked your drinks, how it fell when I was falling for you most. The problem with intersecting is that, afterwards, we must move forever away from each other.
Please circle every possible answer as to how I came to this point, questioning the existence of forever on a train at almost one in the morning. Show your work, prove that I’m the victim here. What is the probability that someone might put a knife to my throat tonight, that I actually become a victim, a statistic, part of another graph entirely?
And if I travel on infinite trains in the early hours of the morning with increasingly reduced interest in living in a world where we aren’t laying parallel to each other, how long until I become the type of girl who is never loved by a man who carries sunflowers on a train headed north at 12:21 in the morning?

Story Problems

If a boy gets on a train headed north at 12:21 in the morning carrying sunflowers and a plastic bag full of cherries, how many split seconds until I fall in love with the idea of him? How many stops until I look for you in the careful curve of his fingers, clutched tight to half a dozen sunflowers?

And if the girl he is traveling towards stays faithful for the next twenty seven minutes, will they stay in love forever? Am I less than, greater than, or equal to the task of curbing my jealousy, of keeping myself from calling you?

Answer me this: do I even believe in an infinite love, which diverges like a line on a graph but carries on? I was told once that a line is a point in motion but I never really understood the point of mathematics until I tried to chart your affection for me, how it spiked when you spiked your drinks, how it fell when I was falling for you most. The problem with intersecting is that, afterwards, we must move forever away from each other.

Please circle every possible answer as to how I came to this point, questioning the existence of forever on a train at almost one in the morning. Show your work, prove that I’m the victim here. What is the probability that someone might put a knife to my throat tonight, that I actually become a victim, a statistic, part of another graph entirely?

And if I travel on infinite trains in the early hours of the morning with increasingly reduced interest in living in a world where we aren’t laying parallel to each other, how long until I become the type of girl who is never loved by a man who carries sunflowers on a train headed north at 12:21 in the morning?

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Love Has Always Been Cruel (For a Girl Named Hero Who Had To Be Her Own)
I didn’t know what would come of it the first night I lit the candle and he swam to me, terrible arms outstretched. I had been devoted to love for so long before him, I thought he was worth worship. He came to me with salt in his blond hair and a smile in his blue eyes and blood between his teeth. That first night, I pretended I didn’t taste it.
We lasted a summer on whispered secrets and kisses on the cheek, but he changed with the weather.
When the storms started, he came to my tower in a rage, fingers curled like waves, furious against my skin, always pulling like the tide. No goddess will have you, he said over and over, until I do.
And his hair smelled like saltwater in the worst way. When he bit my lips, when he tugged my hair, when he laughed it off, he taught me something: love has always been cruel.
The first time, he choked sobs into my neck and told me this was what love was. He swallowed my protests and told me what to want. He sighed with release and he left before he had to see the blood on the sheets the next morning.
I burned them. Love has always been cruel.
His fist against my skin, he told me he loved me. His spit in my mouth, he promised me forever. His hands around my throat, he sighed in perfect ecstasy and told me right there, that was perfect.
So when she whispered, “Let him come,” I lit my torch and beckoned for him.
Blame the wind, because history will. Blame the sea and blame the salt water in his mouth and do not blame the wanton woman who let him spread her legs and dreamed so soundly of him that she did not notice the candle had gone out. I had been burning for ages, I let him put cigarettes out on my skin and call my scars kisses, I was so covered in them that I felt nothing when I closed my hand on the flame and let the wind howl.
He had been drowning me for months before I let the sea suck him under. While the storm raged and swallowed him, I slept soundly at last.
Love has always been cruel.

(hero and leander) (image source)

Love Has Always Been Cruel (For a Girl Named Hero Who Had To Be Her Own)

I didn’t know what would come of it the first night I lit the candle and he swam to me, terrible arms outstretched. I had been devoted to love for so long before him, I thought he was worth worship. He came to me with salt in his blond hair and a smile in his blue eyes and blood between his teeth. That first night, I pretended I didn’t taste it.

We lasted a summer on whispered secrets and kisses on the cheek, but he changed with the weather.

When the storms started, he came to my tower in a rage, fingers curled like waves, furious against my skin, always pulling like the tide. No goddess will have you, he said over and over, until I do.

And his hair smelled like saltwater in the worst way. When he bit my lips, when he tugged my hair, when he laughed it off, he taught me something: love has always been cruel.

The first time, he choked sobs into my neck and told me this was what love was. He swallowed my protests and told me what to want. He sighed with release and he left before he had to see the blood on the sheets the next morning.

I burned them. Love has always been cruel.

His fist against my skin, he told me he loved me. His spit in my mouth, he promised me forever. His hands around my throat, he sighed in perfect ecstasy and told me right there, that was perfect.

So when she whispered, “Let him come,” I lit my torch and beckoned for him.

Blame the wind, because history will. Blame the sea and blame the salt water in his mouth and do not blame the wanton woman who let him spread her legs and dreamed so soundly of him that she did not notice the candle had gone out. I had been burning for ages, I let him put cigarettes out on my skin and call my scars kisses, I was so covered in them that I felt nothing when I closed my hand on the flame and let the wind howl.

He had been drowning me for months before I let the sea suck him under. While the storm raged and swallowed him, I slept soundly at last.

Love has always been cruel.

(hero and leander) (image source)

The Girl With The Iron Spine II

A hot wind blows up from the lake the summer you decide to give up on love. It’s only June, not a firework in the sky, and you already feel exhausted as August. Men on the train leer at your ripped cutoffs and you dream of keeping a knife in your purse. You have a fantasy of your fist against throats, of a bullet under your skin when they call to you from the street. This city has a body count, and what’s a few more tacked on the end of the list?
It will be whispered in the street that you are unhurtable. They will call you ice, cursed, stone. Men who writhe at your knees, gashed open by a few cutting words, will look up at you and spit. But the truth is, you just keep throwing your heart down rabbit holes.
Cut your hair and stay the same person. Change your name, peel layers of tan skin from your legs, stay the same. Go to a man with two glasses of wine in you, ready to spill your guts. Keep silent all night long.
This is what it feels like to be winter all the time, this is what happens when you let the cold thing exist in you too long and turn hotblooded veins to ice. There is a sadness in you and men will try to fuck it out of you. You will feel some nights as if you don’t have a body, as if nothing is real, as if all you are is the rigid iron in your spine, which no one can take from you. But goddamn will they try.
You spend a week not doing your makeup, hoping someone will ask if you’re sick. But no one asks because no one worries after you, you do not tell your mother you ride the train home at three in the morning, you do not tell her you let men send for you in the dead of night, you do not tell her that they crack your ribs open and masticate your heart like you are a foreign delicacy and they are starving, always starving. You do not tell her when a man puts his fist in your hair and yanks. You do not tell her you like it. You cry out in ecstasy and you spend a week wanting skinned knees and scars. 
You do not wither; you do not thrive. You exist.
You kiss boys on street corners because you don’t care who sees. You kiss boys in bars because you are reckless and broken. You kiss girls behind closed doors because you miss softness and comfort and the smell of pomegranate in your hair. 
You pretend you are happy. You pretend you are whole.
(part one of girl with the iron spine) (image) 

The Girl With The Iron Spine II

A hot wind blows up from the lake the summer you decide to give up on love. It’s only June, not a firework in the sky, and you already feel exhausted as August. Men on the train leer at your ripped cutoffs and you dream of keeping a knife in your purse. You have a fantasy of your fist against throats, of a bullet under your skin when they call to you from the street. This city has a body count, and what’s a few more tacked on the end of the list?

It will be whispered in the street that you are unhurtable. They will call you ice, cursed, stone. Men who writhe at your knees, gashed open by a few cutting words, will look up at you and spit. But the truth is, you just keep throwing your heart down rabbit holes.

Cut your hair and stay the same person. Change your name, peel layers of tan skin from your legs, stay the same. Go to a man with two glasses of wine in you, ready to spill your guts. Keep silent all night long.

This is what it feels like to be winter all the time, this is what happens when you let the cold thing exist in you too long and turn hotblooded veins to ice. There is a sadness in you and men will try to fuck it out of you. You will feel some nights as if you don’t have a body, as if nothing is real, as if all you are is the rigid iron in your spine, which no one can take from you. But goddamn will they try.

You spend a week not doing your makeup, hoping someone will ask if you’re sick. But no one asks because no one worries after you, you do not tell your mother you ride the train home at three in the morning, you do not tell her you let men send for you in the dead of night, you do not tell her that they crack your ribs open and masticate your heart like you are a foreign delicacy and they are starving, always starving. You do not tell her when a man puts his fist in your hair and yanks. You do not tell her you like it. You cry out in ecstasy and you spend a week wanting skinned knees and scars. 

You do not wither; you do not thrive. You exist.

You kiss boys on street corners because you don’t care who sees. You kiss boys in bars because you are reckless and broken. You kiss girls behind closed doors because you miss softness and comfort and the smell of pomegranate in your hair. 

You pretend you are happy. You pretend you are whole.

(part one of girl with the iron spine) (image

06.17.2014, or, A Simple Metaphor for My Seven Metaphor Man
I fled the state like you were nipping at my heels but it was only ghosts that chased me out. We’d stopped being corporeal on a November night when it seemed like everything had changed. Dead winter showed me nothing had, and it took me a year to unfreeze myself and run. I left in the dark of night, your love letters still on my desk. Our city curling into ash.
I did not think I would miss the little pink tea set I bought the first time I ever lived alone. So I didn’t pack it. I left it behind, kept on a shelf, stored away. I feigned fear of breaking it when my father asked, called myself too careless. And for a long time, I didn’t think of it, collecting dust. I did not ache for it. But there are mornings when I wake and I wish I could be looking at something gorgeous and delicate while I was making my coffee.

I should have known better, should have learned my lesson from leaving you.

06.17.2014, or, A Simple Metaphor for My Seven Metaphor Man

I fled the state like you were nipping at my heels but it was only ghosts that chased me out. We’d stopped being corporeal on a November night when it seemed like everything had changed. Dead winter showed me nothing had, and it took me a year to unfreeze myself and run. I left in the dark of night, your love letters still on my desk. Our city curling into ash.

I did not think I would miss the little pink tea set I bought the first time I ever lived alone. So I didn’t pack it. I left it behind, kept on a shelf, stored away. I feigned fear of breaking it when my father asked, called myself too careless. And for a long time, I didn’t think of it, collecting dust. I did not ache for it. But there are mornings when I wake and I wish I could be looking at something gorgeous and delicate while I was making my coffee.

I should have known better, should have learned my lesson from leaving you.

Fire, Part III
Wake up from nightmares in a city on fire and let him send for you. Put on your lipstick and do not glance at the clock. It couldn’t hurt to put your skeleton up against his tonight, and maybe for nights at a time.
Even the sirens have stopped echoing and you can count ever car that speeds by, can count every person still awake in the whole city: yourself, the driver, and the man waiting for you between his own sheets. The hot June air slips by and it feel like wind. It makes you feel half-drunk, even when you leave the bottle alone. It’s been driving you crazy like the Santa Anas, pulling your hair and pulling you towards a criminal man.
Pretend this will turn into something beautiful and tragic, something that will drag you apart kicking and clawing for one another, fingertips bleeding, veins wrecked. You are used to being called trouble by men with bedroom eyes and cannibal smiles.
Let him kiss you before you see his bedroom walls. Take refuge from to wind and let him tame you, gentle you. Let him press his fingertips to your bare and burning skin, let him lift you out of your shoes and force your feet off the ground. This is what you live for, this is what girls die for: slow dances in the summer, something more.
Wake from nightmares and feel dangerous in a breakneck city. Do not tell your mother you wander out past dark. Do not tell her what you see in your sleep. Forget to call home for weeks at a time.
Walk around all day with your favorite song stuck in his head and when he says that he thought of you, do not let yourself deny it. Do not wear a seat belt on your way to him.
Let him press his lips to your burnt skin and sigh like it doesn’t hurt.

Fire, Part III

Wake up from nightmares in a city on fire and let him send for you. Put on your lipstick and do not glance at the clock. It couldn’t hurt to put your skeleton up against his tonight, and maybe for nights at a time.

Even the sirens have stopped echoing and you can count ever car that speeds by, can count every person still awake in the whole city: yourself, the driver, and the man waiting for you between his own sheets. The hot June air slips by and it feel like wind. It makes you feel half-drunk, even when you leave the bottle alone. It’s been driving you crazy like the Santa Anas, pulling your hair and pulling you towards a criminal man.

Pretend this will turn into something beautiful and tragic, something that will drag you apart kicking and clawing for one another, fingertips bleeding, veins wrecked. You are used to being called trouble by men with bedroom eyes and cannibal smiles.

Let him kiss you before you see his bedroom walls. Take refuge from to wind and let him tame you, gentle you. Let him press his fingertips to your bare and burning skin, let him lift you out of your shoes and force your feet off the ground. This is what you live for, this is what girls die for: slow dances in the summer, something more.

Wake from nightmares and feel dangerous in a breakneck city. Do not tell your mother you wander out past dark. Do not tell her what you see in your sleep. Forget to call home for weeks at a time.

Walk around all day with your favorite song stuck in his head and when he says that he thought of you, do not let yourself deny it. Do not wear a seat belt on your way to him.

Let him press his lips to your burnt skin and sigh like it doesn’t hurt.

Dear Mama, I Have Taken Up With An Older Man (Again)
When I am blackout drunk, I will confess that I leave my hair elastics on your bedside table to see if you throw them out, or if they are doubled between the time I come and the times I don’t. This will scare you as much as the women who ask you for a ring, this will keep you from calling, I’m sure of it. But let me tell you secrets, honey. Every woman will count the condoms in your drawer to see if you are sleeping with someone else and don’t you dare say you are looking for someone who won’t. A woman like that won’t care or she’s not smart enough, and either way, don’t you dare settle for a girl like that, don’t you dare.
But you say I am too young for you because I care to admit it. My tongue hasn’t grown into itself, it never knows when to stop. I am too wild for you because I don’t remember what it’s like to feel my heart beat steady with a man’s hands on my waist. I haven’t grown into my feet yet. Don’t expect me to kiss like her, the girl whose name I can hear echoing at the back of your throat every time you speak. Don’t expect me to walk straight lines to you on Friday nights.
And I won’t expect for you to run across the city at three in the morning to rescue me from some imagined slight, liquored up and livid when you don’t answer the phone. I won’t call you by the name of those who came before to keep you in check. I will wake up with my clothes on your kitchen floor and take a cab home before you wake. Ask yourself if I was a fever dream, ask yourself if I was ever all there, or there at all.
You will want for me to wait by the phone, you will want to keep me on the highest shelf, out of reach, untouched by anyone but you. You will count the condoms in my drawer, you will guard me like a secret slipping from between my gaped teeth. But it will not do; I was fallen before I met you. It’s been too long since I was wrecked in a temple, I have grown used to the snakes in my hair. Turn your heart to stone or don’t touch me.

And I am sick to death of rejection tasting like the ashes of every bridge I burnt on my way out of town. And I am sick of my cheeks tasting like the salt I scattered in every field between me and the man I left, whose name you have never asked me to repeat when I scream it in my sleep. You and any older man who takes me as a lover will tell me you don’t care to know, none of you ever care to know.
But how can you expect to know a girl if you can’t name her nightmares?

Dear Mama, I Have Taken Up With An Older Man (Again)

When I am blackout drunk, I will confess that I leave my hair elastics on your bedside table to see if you throw them out, or if they are doubled between the time I come and the times I don’t. This will scare you as much as the women who ask you for a ring, this will keep you from calling, I’m sure of it. But let me tell you secrets, honey. Every woman will count the condoms in your drawer to see if you are sleeping with someone else and don’t you dare say you are looking for someone who won’t. A woman like that won’t care or she’s not smart enough, and either way, don’t you dare settle for a girl like that, don’t you dare.

But you say I am too young for you because I care to admit it. My tongue hasn’t grown into itself, it never knows when to stop. I am too wild for you because I don’t remember what it’s like to feel my heart beat steady with a man’s hands on my waist. I haven’t grown into my feet yet. Don’t expect me to kiss like her, the girl whose name I can hear echoing at the back of your throat every time you speak. Don’t expect me to walk straight lines to you on Friday nights.

And I won’t expect for you to run across the city at three in the morning to rescue me from some imagined slight, liquored up and livid when you don’t answer the phone. I won’t call you by the name of those who came before to keep you in check. I will wake up with my clothes on your kitchen floor and take a cab home before you wake. Ask yourself if I was a fever dream, ask yourself if I was ever all there, or there at all.

You will want for me to wait by the phone, you will want to keep me on the highest shelf, out of reach, untouched by anyone but you. You will count the condoms in my drawer, you will guard me like a secret slipping from between my gaped teeth. But it will not do; I was fallen before I met you. It’s been too long since I was wrecked in a temple, I have grown used to the snakes in my hair. Turn your heart to stone or don’t touch me.

And I am sick to death of rejection tasting like the ashes of every bridge I burnt on my way out of town. And I am sick of my cheeks tasting like the salt I scattered in every field between me and the man I left, whose name you have never asked me to repeat when I scream it in my sleep. You and any older man who takes me as a lover will tell me you don’t care to know, none of you ever care to know.

But how can you expect to know a girl if you can’t name her nightmares?

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Someone scratched the word Zion into the reflective silver of the train car and I know, I know, I know they were looking for heaven. And I know, I know, I know they didn’t mean a place five hours south of my hometown, where rocks reach long fingers towards skies that are only ever grey when it snows. 
The vandal and I, we believe in a different sort of heaven. Mine is not the kind that comes scratched into metal, the work of human hands, the triumph of man. 
My heaven does not have walls. It has windows.
It is the kind that that comes from rivers. It is years of careful erosion. My heaven is the slow movement of earth, the assurance of the wind that nothing is permanent. It is centuries of sand deposits. It is a storm that comes through the desert quick and floods slot canyons and reminds you of how creation must have felt.
The vandal couldn’t have known he’d make rivers of my own eyes on a train at one in the morning. But then again, the vandal doesn’t know what rivers can do.

Someone scratched the word Zion into the reflective silver of the train car and I know, I know, I know they were looking for heaven. And I know, I know, I know they didn’t mean a place five hours south of my hometown, where rocks reach long fingers towards skies that are only ever grey when it snows. 

The vandal and I, we believe in a different sort of heaven. Mine is not the kind that comes scratched into metal, the work of human hands, the triumph of man.

My heaven does not have walls. It has windows.

It is the kind that that comes from rivers. It is years of careful erosion. My heaven is the slow movement of earth, the assurance of the wind that nothing is permanent. It is centuries of sand deposits. It is a storm that comes through the desert quick and floods slot canyons and reminds you of how creation must have felt.

The vandal couldn’t have known he’d make rivers of my own eyes on a train at one in the morning. But then again, the vandal doesn’t know what rivers can do.

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Hunter, a Temporary Addiction
We kiss like newlyweds in the moments before you leave me for your cigarettes, tasting longing in each other’s mouths. I wonder always if you are longing for me or for nicotine. Tonight, I don’t follow you outside. I don’t hold smoke behind my teeth, pretending, before I let it slip from my lips, curling into nothingness. 
Maybe I don’t want blackened lungs the way I did when I met you. Maybe I am already falling out of love with the disaster that you so obviously are.
There are nights when you are careless, when you smoke on the balcony and draw me out in a white sheet, like I am a ghost of what my father thought I would be. When you are careless, you don’t notice when I shiver. When you are cruel, you call me by your ex-wife’s name in your sleep and tell me in the morning you dreamed about Texas.
But most nights, you are careful and so you go out alone. You come back cold and all the longing has gone out of me, so I fake sleep until I know you’ll leave it alone. In our early days, we seemed so hungry for something, but I’m starting to think that we’ve both been sated, that we have nothing left to offer each other.

When you are smoking, I either pace your tiny apartment or bite my tongue to keep from screaming. 
Once, in a thoughtless show of distraction, I let the lit tip of whatever brand it is you smoke crash into the roof of your car and sparks showered down on me. You didn’t move. You didn’t point out or maybe even notice the burn mark I left on your otherwise spotless interior: stark black smudge and an empty, cracked hole. I would wonder months later if you’d notice it as you crossed state lines to Texas. You didn’t offer to help as I sucked my smoldering fingertip. 
You only asked, “Are you hurt?”
I didn’t quite answer your question, but I told you I’d be just fine.

Hunter, a Temporary Addiction

We kiss like newlyweds in the moments before you leave me for your cigarettes, tasting longing in each other’s mouths. I wonder always if you are longing for me or for nicotine. Tonight, I don’t follow you outside. I don’t hold smoke behind my teeth, pretending, before I let it slip from my lips, curling into nothingness. 

Maybe I don’t want blackened lungs the way I did when I met you. Maybe I am already falling out of love with the disaster that you so obviously are.

There are nights when you are careless, when you smoke on the balcony and draw me out in a white sheet, like I am a ghost of what my father thought I would be. When you are careless, you don’t notice when I shiver. When you are cruel, you call me by your ex-wife’s name in your sleep and tell me in the morning you dreamed about Texas.

But most nights, you are careful and so you go out alone. You come back cold and all the longing has gone out of me, so I fake sleep until I know you’ll leave it alone. In our early days, we seemed so hungry for something, but I’m starting to think that we’ve both been sated, that we have nothing left to offer each other. When you are smoking, I either pace your tiny apartment or bite my tongue to keep from screaming. 

Once, in a thoughtless show of distraction, I let the lit tip of whatever brand it is you smoke crash into the roof of your car and sparks showered down on me. You didn’t move. You didn’t point out or maybe even notice the burn mark I left on your otherwise spotless interior: stark black smudge and an empty, cracked hole. I would wonder months later if you’d notice it as you crossed state lines to Texas. You didn’t offer to help as I sucked my smoldering fingertip. 

You only asked, “Are you hurt?”

I didn’t quite answer your question, but I told you I’d be just fine.

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