One-Track Mind

Thinking about how
sex is different, much more
different, now than it was then;
not materially — the strings still
bray, their ancient tongues still
flick the same — but structurally.

Thinking about how
to imagine being fucked from
behind, without gagging on a
principle: all sex is violence
except the kind that is saved
by a word; Mississippi means
“This doesn’t feel good to me.”

Thinking about how
this doesn’t feel good to me;
the mattress has a zipper that
rubs wrongly, reminding me
of a mouth too familiar that
is dry and uncertainly mine.

Thinking about how
often is not often enough
for someone* to masturbate
when someone is *a female.

Thinking about how
being female is a diagnosis
for dysfunction; how I come
and come and come to accept
that prescription for Prozac
in place of understanding.

Thinking about how
the whole is greater than the sum
of its parts, i.e., ❤ = you + me
or 1 + 1 = 3; how there’s no proof
that when two losers fall in love
they’ve the will to beat anything.

Thinking about how
you beat me once, and again,
not materially — but an injury
does not have to be physical
to get us thinking about how
the body works or does not.

My First Place

lamplightIn the northwest corner
a tent for the sun
diffuses light muted divine
across this uncarpeted territory
that I deign call mine
but rather than bask
in the afterglow
of an energy bill paid
and my utility proven
I shut the lamp again
until it cools
“it” being the bulb
but also the fear
of being outgrown
as toy is by child
of being the child
who outgrows
the clinging
the tantrums
and toilet accidents
the infrastructure
for success
in health and happiness
that I built last season
when legs were shorter
and it made sense
to sit on his shoulders
for a clear view of the stage
beyond the next hill
beyond the walls of our bedroom
beyond “us”
and I stand
corrected of all errors made
under the influence
of the status quo
the normative hetero-
and other biases
on the subject of
how women and men are supposed to live
together
to live creatively
and I shout
I was an artist before we met
before he gave the go-ahead
by commenting on all my pictures
cute!
and I will stay an artist regardless
of how I use (or do not use)
my sex
and I sound
self-righteous and overexposed
to darkness and solitude
but I am not low
because my ego is so high
and I step
off my soap box taller
the tallest in the room
knowing one thing to be true:
for as long as I am here
I will not be where he went.

Song of My Selfie

In 2013, “selfie” was named the Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year. It is an informal noun (plural: selfies) defined as “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.”

I.   I monitor myself, and sing myself,
and compose the truth you shall assume,
for an arched brow only means as much as it signifies to you.

I choose to discard my soul.
I cut ‘cross puckerbrush, and plant dandies
among the summer grass.

My teeth, every incisor in my mouth, chatter in the open air.
Born with a  jack-o’-lantern grin, of parents who loved me all the same,
I, now thirty-seven paces tread into solitude, begin,
hoping to survive shutter-death.

Creeds and schools in abeyance,
retiring reliance on cultural scripts, undocumented, but never
forgotten–I capture myself, for good or bad.
I permit the image to speak every hazard nature has imbued
and, in its irregularities, reap energy.

II.  The house is deserted as a chestnut, rotted from inside out.
With perfumes, I concoct the fragrance of myself, and like it.
The vanity would noose me by the nose, but I shall not let it.

The phthalates are not necessary; they are dangerous and disruptive,
odorless, and potentially toxic, but I am in love with the bouquet.
I will haunt the powder room, doused in chemicals and naked,
smelling of red dye, unpicked.

The stress in my bated breath echoes and swarms,
in buzz’d whispers, a scandal creeps the vine.

My active mind puts me at the party, sniffing on green leaves,
punching air into my lungs, sucking off cherries, and swallowing their pits
for kicks. The sound, O, the siren sound, of my chalky heels striking
the cellar floor, eager for a few light kisses, a few embraces,
an offering of arms.

In dreams, I play synesthetic: mouth open, tongue wagging in delight,
imbibing each balsamic beat, spit-shadows trailing my hill-sides.
The feeling of  weak acid cleansing the body, from inside out,
imitates health, and encourages me to rise.
At the trill of full-noon, I will rise to meet someone.

III.  I have seen how the gawkers are gawking,
with mock compassion, at my reaches and bends.
But I refuse the hands they offer to lend.

There was never any more protection than there is now.
Nor any more depravity than there is now.
And will never be more fornication on cable than there is now.
Nor any more hoots and hollers than there are now.

Urge and urge and urge.
Always the procreant urge of the world.
By God’s word, go forth and multiply.

I have heard how the doctors are doctoring,
the doc-talk of the baster and the twine.
But I refuse to be dressed for their holiday tables,
my cavity a mere incubator of precious stuff.

Sure as the most certain sure, the experts are plumb
in the uprights, well-entretied, braced in the beams.
A thousand acres sown with x chromosomes,
logic assumes I improve my sex–they promise.

My offspring will possess a ubiquity of things,
white towels swelling the house, crystal vah-zes
breeding dust mites in the den.

My offspring will be stout as a horse, affectionate,
haughty, electrical, with a soul so clear and sweet,
neither an inch nor a particle reminiscent of me.
By the word of Science, she will be progress.

IV. Menarche, the first horror, the beginning
of conjugal war, of feverish loins, of pit stains.

Pornographers surround me, people I meet,
around town, on the train, in public restrooms,
at the office, behind the house, or ward, I live in.

Their scopophilic gaze compounds me,
I am oddball, wastewater, womankind, nothing
fit for the respect of some boy, or sage, I love.

The thickness of one lip more than the other,
engorged like a grub, renders me complicit,
an actor in the defamation of myself.

A part in the hair, or breasts, I am splitting.
Apart from my cherry, I am broke.
She is my idol, my amour propre, my unitary self.

The serpents look down, are erect, or bent, at rest,
arrested, looking with side-curved heads, curious,
what will come next, tongues darting in and out,
enraptured by the game of watching and wondering.

Backward I trace in my steps where I erred,
but I find no such incrimination.
I have made no mockings or arguments,
I have witnessed and waited.

Ten Truths and a Lie [Monologue]

1) My third grade teacher, Missus Kara-Jane Crosley, singled me out and was always cross with me.

“You hang upside down on the monkey bars, wearing denim jumpers crafted from old overalls. You speak in gibberish of counting stars, and stand your ground when I say ‘No, only boys come from Mars.’ You come in late after recess time, and fumble the words of every nursery rhyme. Kayla, there are two types of people in this world: you and everyone else.”

 My Body lies over the ocean

My Body lies over the sea

My Body lies over the ocean

Oh, bring back my Body to me . . .

 2)   A child of the seventies, my father grew up pining for a color television, which was a luxury his family of factory workers could not afford. When I was ten years old, he bought me a twelve-inch set for Christmas, and displayed it like a trophy on the shelf above my head. Watching re-runs of

Sex and the City made staying up past bedtime feel all the more rebellious. I wonder how the children of the seventies learned what their parts were for.

3)  I removed my thorn-torn stockings, patched the wound with gauze and sap, and descended the stairs with an announcement caught in my throat:

“Ma-ma, I am a maple. Ma-ma, I’ve been tapped. Peter popped my cherry behind the sugar shack.”

“Oh, that’s nice honey, how was track?”

4) A daily dose of progesterone kept the baby away, and Planned Parenthood let me have it without parental consent or co-pay.

On October 30, 2010, the day Drew and I became exclusive, he flushed my pills down the toilet, called me a junkie, and swore he would rather be alone than watch me poison my body with artificial hormones.

He said, “I want to wear a condom,”

and I said, “Thank God for that.”

“Charge them with your card; don’t worry,

I’ll spot you some cash.”

5) “Joanne, we’re gonna need a vomit pan in here,” crowed the nurse, as I gripped the stress ball in my palm so tightly that she half-expected to see juice and clotted pulp dripping from my wrist. I retracted my limbs to keep them from whipping in the wind. I was a tortoise. I was a gyromancer. For once, I was in control.

The results arrived three weeks later, sealed in a broad manilla envelope colored like mustard: straight negatives. I breathed sweet relief into my cupped hands, still shivering with anxious anticipation. That bastard cost me fifty dollars, eighty-three cents, and an immeasurable sum of pride.Always buckle up before you ride.

6)  Before I turned vegetarian, and cut out all white foods, my favorite meal was barbecue chicken quarters, tucked into a warm bed of instant mashed potatoes. Hungry Jack ate his legs whole, and so did I, from drumstick handle to upper-thigh.

It may be said that “you are what you eat,” but I grew neither bird’s legs nor bird feet, so I switched to a diet of nuts and seeds, to end world hunger and fight disease.

7)  I broke three years of fidelity to have sex with an ex, and it wasn’t even as hot as I thought it would be. We fucked four times — in the men’s room at South Station, against the front door of his apartment, on the kitchen counter tops and, once more, under the shower(for the sake of conserving water). We fell asleep on opposite ends of the couch, each cradling a paper cup half empty with Honey Nut Cheerios, like grown-ups engaged in a real grown-up affair. That night, I dreamt I was an animal, and woke up with a tail between my legs. Home wanted to know where I had been, “How was your weekend? Did you have fun?” I laid down three aces, and waited for him to call bullshit, but he never did. I am a good girl who does very bad things, but only when I know that I can get away with them.

8) “Ms. Kennett, I understand that you prefer to be called ‘Lucy,’ is that correct?”

The receptionist donned a puzzled expression, as the patient paused to puzzle over her question, separating its syllables into columns, scratching plus and equals signs into the cheap pressboard desktop.

“Ms. Kennett?”

That time, I nodded, but neither confirmed nor denied it.

 [to be continued]

 9)                                                                                 [to be determined]

 event related to exploration of sexuality

 10)                                                                               [to be determined]

event related to intimate partner violence

 11)   I want to feel the force of my wrath and swing, smashing all the delicate things, but I resist, and in resistance, find strength.

 Bring back, bring back

Bring back my Body to me

Heads, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes

I.  On the verge of vertigo, the objects
in the mirror are closer than they appear
to be right-brained would be such
a wonderful thing that mothers always say
is: “Look both ways before crossing
the street” less traveled by will ebb
and flow, but who could miss such a
spectacular show-and-tell needs ears
and eyes are said to be our most expressive
feature films never feature heads
like mine.

II. Carry the weight of your world to my
doorstep. Let it lay upon my shoulders.
Shoulders. Shoulders were built to
shimmy and shake, shake, shake it,
girls were built to touch and taste and
feel better, Love, you’ve got so much left
to prove that force equals mass times
acceleration equals (Vf – Vi)
over time, my shoulders will buckle and break-
ing bread stands for broken bones in
the Bible teaches that we are built to
bear burdens.

III. In fourth grade, I played  as the knee-high
man who stood fallen, unable to get up-
stairs, everyone was laughing, but
I stood frozen, unable to get up
the courage and join them in
Holy Union, by the power invested
in me, and my legs, which buckled at
the “knee me in the groin, I deserve it!”
you spat on my glasses but they were not
dirty dishes made you angry not
mad means crazy – I learned that much in
fourth grade.

IV. Gym teacher says “reach out and touch your toes
—  if you can” throw on a movie and coat
of lipstick, well, you’ll have yourself
a date too mediocre to remember
might make a good little anniversary
one day after my thirteenth birthday,
gym teacher says “you can shoot for the moon,
but you’ll never score a three-point-
one-four was my favorite number in
the universe made me a “Mother,
why don’t you number the stars
anymore?”

Self-Domesticated [Essay]

In the throes of an autumn hurricane, rain falling in thick flannel sheets, woody branches flexing, snapping, barreling to the ground, I holed up in a 10’ x 12’ dorm room, disturbed only by an occasional flicker of the lights, the abrasive *ting* of rain drops, like small stones pelting against our window. I say our, neither “my” nor “his,” because, by that time in November, he and I had been playing house for two months, sharing four dresser drawers, three varieties of tea, two coffee mugs, and one twin-sized bed. Our days began at 7:45 am, when our alarms simultaneously chimed and our eyes met with the same sentiment: five more minutes. We had fallen into the pattern of a working couple ten years our senior, apart from nine to five, dinner and “How was your day?” at six, bedtime no later than twelve-thirty and, for the first time in my dating life, I felt “on the same page” with my partner.

In childhood and adolescence, I had learned to anticipate abandonment, as friends, family, and lovers carved out places in my heart only to relinquish them once I developed an attachment. Lacking a consistent and emotionally available caregiver disabled me from building the trust needed to sustain healthy relationships in adulthood. I craved the stability of long-term commitment, but required regular affirmation of my partners’ affections to a degree that could not be sustained. After a handful of botched romances, happy cohabitation seemed a distant fantasy, an unrealistic expectation for someone just entering her twenties, but, then, it happened.

I couldn’t find the words to express how grateful I was to have his unconditional love; boys are, after all, notoriously opposed to commitment and, as mothers always advise, when you meet one of those rare exceptions, you had better hold onto him. The overuse and commodification of I love you, a sentiment emblazoned across the chests of teddy bears, printed on chalky heart-shaped candies, left me wanting for a medium of expression that wouldn’t marginalize the sincerity of my affections. Under the premise that actions speak louder than words, I integrated daily gestures of kindness into my routine, making treats for us to indulge in during study breaks, cleaning our room while he was away for the weekend, brewing him cups of tea when he had a sore throat. I lived for the praise these acts garnered me, extra hugs and kisses, the “Mmm” as he tasted my chai-spiced apple sauce, invitations to come home and meet his parents. Over time, though, the appreciation dwindled, and I started fishing for compliments, soliloquizing on how I planned to make butternut squash soup for dinner, but he wouldn’t bite.

With two Women’s Studies courses on my schedule, I had become increasingly alert to gender inequalities, and developed a heightened awareness of my own gender strategy. From an outside perspective, I was sure we resembled the prototypical heterosexual couple, despotic male/servile female, and that terrified me. Cooking had been a love of my life before I met this man, this “love of my life,” but with a frying pan in one hand, and The Second Shift in the other, I must have looked like the model of hypocrisy; there I was, condemning the gender division of labor, while trying to win my boyfriend’s heart through his stomach. I wanted to run out of the [metaphorical] kitchen faster than I could untie my apron strings, lest I be eternally damned to the domestic sphere.

At the time, I hadn’t yet decided the role I wanted feminism to play in my life and, in terms of feminist identity development, my feet were planted firmly in Stage III, embeddedness-emanation. My resentment and anger towards a world which allows daily injustices to transpire against women was still fresh, exacerbating my trust issues with men, and leading me to overidentify men’s intent to oppress. I was not in the mindset to take responsibility for my role in creating this dynamic, instead I shifted the whole of the burden to my partner: if anything sexist is going on, it must be his fault. After all, I was a feminist goddamnit, and I would never choose to be some 1960s sitcom housewife like Samantha Stephens or June Cleaver, I wanted to be Mary Tyler Moore! But playing the blame game was (1) not ending my compulsion to reward him with cookies and clean laundry and (2) alienating me from a potential ally.

For our relationship to become truly egalitarian, I needed to change the way I approached gender issues, no longer as exclusively women’s issues. Throughout our childhood and adolescent years, he and I were both spoon-fed the dominant/submissive paradigm, and both internalized our traditional role in the heterosexual relationship as the “natural” way of relating to the opposite sex. Gender had been both of our destinies. I was in denial of my conformity, he was oblivious to his, and neither of us questioned the distribution of power in our relationship before I developed an interest in Women’s Studies. Unfortunately, that phenomenon did not go unnoticed, and my “unwarranted” attacks led him to construct a stereotypical portrait of feminism as a man-hating and antagonistic movement. When I was pressed to defend the greatest education I have ever received, it brought me face to face with the extent of my self-submission, and allowed me to verbally negotiate the root of our problem. Ironically, the day we became allies was the day our tension reached its apex; on a tempestuous Monday in November, cooped up together for far too many hours on end, I nearly called the whole thing off on the grounds of “irreconcilable differences.”

Outside, rain-water seeped into thirsty pavement until it could drink no more, collecting in the depressions of the sidewalk, making puddles like little urban tidal pools. Inside, swaddled in fleece blankets, sheltered by tall, cinderblock walls, I thanked the roof over my head for its protection. I loved the safety of this place, the invincibility it offered; here, I was freed from insecurity, assured a controlled environment: warmly lit, dry, heated to 70-degrees, and equipped with a loving companion to join me in weathering out the storm. The comfort of knowing that he would always be there, perched at his desk, head in hand, every time I looked up from my reading, was enough to keep me from wanting anything more.

I took turns memorizing every curve of his silhouette, the long-lobed ears, broad shoulders, nipped waist, numbing the noise of my internal monologue with little doses of adoration. And then it hit me, like a bus, or a wave, or a sack of potatoes; it was flushed cheeks, sweaty palms, knot in stomach, but not in that star-crossed lovers across the ballroom kind of way. What if one day he isn’t in that chair, five feet from me, but five hundred miles away making someone else’s dreams come true? What if one day, just like that, he turns to me and says, “I’m sorry, but I can’t give you what you need, not anymore.” I heard him speak those words unsaid again and again in my head, until I couldn’t differentiate my hallucinations from his actions.

When the swells of anxiety abated, at first, I felt dizzy, and then, compelled to my feet; a fly drawn to the warm glow of his desk lamp, I moved toward him and collapsed into an embrace. My arms hung like limp noodles on his shoulders, sentiments gushing out of me like vomit: “iloveyouknowiloveyouright!?” After silently studying for the past two hours, my  spur-of-the-moment declaration struck him as out of context, and he shrugged my words off as if they were nothing: “I know, sweetie, I’m working okay …” His dismissal meant the final nail in the coffin to me, an indication of indifference, a red flag hoisted above our heads printed with “change of heart.” Why did I let myself get close to someone, again? Love can be too thick to reciprocate, hadn’t I learned that by now? Suddenly, our home started to look a lot more like his room, and I didn’t feel safe anymore. I could feel the temperature rising to 75, 80, 85, the window sill flooding with wayward drops that spilled through a hole in the screen. I returned to the bed, and flipped back to my page, but the words may as well have been written in invisible ink, because I was wearing my doubts and insecurities like blinders. Just pay attention to me, I thought. One look from those glassy brown eyes would have been enough, one look to deny my fear of his impending distance.

I needed a distraction, something … systematic, a task, with clearly defined steps, to structure my thoughts around. After a quick survey of my surroundings, I set my sights on a lone sweet potato, lolling in the fruit bowl, forgotten just like me. A few cups of dry black beans, packed tightly into a transparent snack bag, competed for my notice. The perfect pairing. A romance meant for summer picnics, like the sweet potato and black bean enchiladas my housemates so ravenously gobbled down, that he had never tasted. Minutes later, with the short blade of a paring knife, I peeled long curls of skin away from orange flesh. For a moment, the spell of his laptop screen was broken, and he regained consciousness just long enough to investigate what I, conspicuously seated on the floor with a potato, was doing.

 

“I didn’t know we were cooking tonight,” he stated as a question. We.

 

“Oh, I just thought the potato should get used up.”

 

“Oh …well, since it’s been a busy day, I didn’t want to go through the ordeal of cooking and cleaning up, you know?”

 

“You don’t have to do anything, I’ve wanted to make this for awhile; I need a break from working anyway.”

 

“Alright, but I’d be just as happy going to the dining hall if you change your mind.”

 

An hour or so later, as I spooned the orange-black filling into two tortillas, he was still transfixed by the glow of his Mac and hadn’t so much as sneezed since our last bit of conversation. When the meal was assembled I took pride in my presentation, like a photo taken straight out of a restaurant menu. He eyed the food with cautiousness before piping up with an infantile “Can I …?”

He was walking on eggshells, approaching a sleeping baby who could be jostled by the slightest scuff of a shoe. If I was supposed to be a time bomb, well, then I’d show him an explosion. I spoke more sharply than I should have:

 

“Why would you even ask me that? Of course you can have some, I made a plate for you!”

 

“Well, I don’t know, you’ve been more sensitive lately.” Another red flag.

 

“Sensitive. You know that sounds straight out of a guidebook for sexist boyfriends,     right?”

 

This time, his response was more indignant than reluctant. “That’s exactly what I mean! I know it’s important to you, but of all the things to get worked up about, in a world of war, poverty, and terminal disease, you chose feminism?”

 

“And you chose Computer Science…? How noble.” I shoved his textbook off the bed, it hit the floor with a loud “fuck you.” His body tensed.

 

“You’re right, it’s important to me. But there’s no me in “us,” not anymore. My hobbies, my passions, my likes and dislikes, those don’t matter to you; your life is our life.”

 

I didn’t have class in ten minutes. I wasn’t rushing to make it to breakfast at 8:00 am sharp. But, I left anyway. With no umbrella to keep me dry, I walked bareheaded into the storm.

I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something innately masochistic in my desire to shack up with a man, bolt the door, and never come out. And, while I couldn’t deny the wholeness I felt in his arms, I knew that self-actualization was supposed to mean finding fulfillment in oneself, not in another. Nonetheless, I allowed being in love to consume me, logging enough hours working on my relationship to warrant it status as my life’s passion. In reality, achieving the unattainable hadn’t brought the instant happiness I expected it to, and my obsession with maintaining perfection made a far less romantic narrative than true love and sunsets.

In The Second Shift, Arlie Hochschild coins the term “the economy of gratitude,” referring to the gifts given and received between spouses and how those gifts are valued. I indebted myself to him simply for loving me, offered my heart on a silver platter and, of him, asked only one thing: stay. He never asked or expected me to be domestic. It was easier on my conscience to play the victim, to convince myself that he had changed me when, in truth, being in a relationship with any man would have changed me. I needed to be invaluable to him. So, I played the “perfect girlfriend” to a tee, defaulting to the domestic types for character study, because those were the only ones I knew. At every avenue, society said that the “marrying type” baked homemade chocolate chip cookies, shared his interests, laughed at his jokes, and left him alone when he wanted to be. I chose to submit to him, but my “choice” was made in self-defense, as a way of evening the score and, in some backwards way, claiming the “upper hand” in our relationship. If I was perfect, he would never have good reason to abandon me.

Later that day, when I returned home, I admitted my fear. I’m afraid to lose you. But, that’s not what I said, not this time. Instead, “I have lost myself.” When we built an “us” from “he” and “I,” I withheld all the pieces of me. Now, here we were, four walls, a roof over our heads, every brick engraved with his name.